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Lead Paint Poisoning
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Lead Poisoning Threat To Kids

Old Paint, Toys, Dishes Can Contain Lead

Aug 6, 2003 | The risk of lead poisoning is not just a big city issue. It's something families are also dealing with in the Champlain Valley.

Lead can be found in older painted homes and toys, in water, even in soil. Young children are at the greatest risk because their bodies are still developing. In children, lead poisoning can cause learning disabilities, hearing loss and behavior problems. Some of those problems may not show up until later in life.

A simple blood test can spot potential lead poisoning in children. Sarah Hackett said that's what happened with her 1-year-old son, Wyatt.

"We just went and had it done, not expecting to hear anything back. Three days later they called and said he had lead poisoning. We were shocked," Hackett said.

The Hacketts wondered what they did wrong and started to think about the house they lived in.

"We thought because the house was old, perhaps that could attribute to it. We didn't see any chipped paint. He doesn't eat chipped paint. He doesn't lick the window sills," Hackett said.

They turned to the Clinton County Health Department for advice. A few simple tests on their home performed by public health nurse Ted Hohn showed that paint around their windows and doors was lead-based. Lead paint was outlawed in the 1970s, but remnants of it remain, especially in old farmhouses. And when the lead paint chips and disintegrates, it turns into a fine dust that scatters around the house when the doors or windows are opened.

"Little kids crawling around on the carpet are closer to the ground where dust settles," Hohn said. "They have an automatic hand-to-mouth response. When they get lead on their hands, they get it in their mouth, and it goes into their system."

To stop the problem the Hacketts were told to clean and scrub their house and everything in it top to bottom and then cover up the lead-based paint.

"Anything that was chipped off at all, we just covered it with a paint that covers lead based paint. They recommend you don't try to scrape it at all because that will cause more dust," Hackett said.

Blood samples taken a few months later showed their hard work paid off. The lead level in Wyatt Hackett's blood went down, but his parents worry about the long-term effects of lead exposure.

"It can affect fine-motor development and brain development. It affects things that are not obvious until later in life," Hackett said.

Wyatt Hackett is anemic, a sign of elevated lead levels in the blood. He takes iron drops every day and still bruises easily. However, his older sister Taylor never showed any signs of lead poisoning.

"It's possibly due to individual childhood behavior," Hohn said. "Some kids have stronger hand-to-mouth response than others."

Hackett said her son is doing all right thanks to the required blood test and advice from the health department. But she worries that children who don't see a pediatrician regularly will slip through the cracks.

"I would recommend having a lead-level test whether you live in an old house or not, because there are some toys that have lead and ceramic dishes with lead," Hackett said.

Hackett's son still needs two more blood tests to make sure his lead level is staying low, but she said that if necessary, they are ready to move. They are hoping to build a new home, anyway.

If you live in an older house built before the early 1970s there are steps you can take. You can buy lead test at home improvement stores.

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