Study: Lead poisoning can impact children well into adulthood

Updated: Jul. 24, 2020 at 7:18 AM EDT
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - Expectant mother, Saequilla Drew, 26, is the mother of two. Her 2-year-old son, TaVon Drew, has elevated levels of lead in his blood system.

“I don’t know if it’s his lead problem,” said Drew. “I don’t know if his lead is too high, but yeah, he got an anger problem. Outside of that he don’t got no problem with me.”

The negative health and behavioral effects of lead poisoning have begun to show in little TaVon.

Similar results were revealed in a study, co-authored by two Case Western Reserve University professors, Claudia Coulton and Rob Fischer.

Their study is called “The Downstream Constant Consequences of Early Childhood Lead Exposure.”

It’s a long title that often boils down to a “poison-to-prison pipeline” for many Cleveland children with elevated levels of lead in their blood systems.

“He had lead like three times,” said Drew. “It went away and it came back. It keeps on going away and coming back.”

“You cannot look at this study and not conclude that we have to prevent one more child from having this exposure,” said CWRU professor Rob Fischer.

Professor Fischer said what is likely to happen to TaVon, without intervention, was intentionally set into motion decades ago.

“Through a very contrived social experiment in the 1900s set these neighborhoods up to be dis-invested,” said Professor Fischer. “Often based on the presence of black families, immigrant families, they were walled off from kind of financial investment and that now we are, we’ve seen that play out over 100 years. These communities are no better off in terms of their housing and we are now facing by a significant investment that needs to be made to correct this.”

One of the problems is most of the housing stock in Cleveland was built well before 1978 when lead was mandated to be removed from paint.

Chipping lead paint and paint dust on window seals and other surfaces pose a constant problem to children.

TaVon’s mother continues her never-ending battle to keep him from what seems like an inevitable fate of performing poorly on third-grade reading and math proficiency tests.

The study showed a 32% and 12% lower rate, respectively for those lead poisoned compared to those who were not. The negative effects also repeated in passing rates of third and ninth graders.

“We do have some children hospitalized probably about a dozen a year due to their lead levels,” said Stephanie McConoughey, the Program Manager of the Lead and Healthy Home Programs for the Cuyahoga County Board of Health.

She said the main concern is for children less than six years old and what happens in their brains that haven’t fully developed and grown.

”So, when you introduce lead into the brain and into the body it disrupts the growth of the brain and it can cause IQ deficits. It can cause learning delays, behavior problems, like hyperactivity and the higher the lead level it can obviously cause a lot more concerns with hearing loss and ultimately death.”

“Any amount of lead in your system is dangerous,” said Cleveland City Councilman, Blaine Griffin.

Councilman Blaine Griffin of Cleveland’s Ward 6 chairs the Health and Human Services Committee.

”In this age of COVID-19 we found that less children are being tested and more kids are being exposed to lead during this crisis because they’re spending more time at home.”

“We’re in the age of the conversation of equity and we’re in the age of the conversation of how the Black community is being disproportionately impacted and this report shows that clearly because of segregation,” said Griffin. “Redlining and sub-prime lending crisis and other kind of policies like that exacerbated the lead exposure issue in our community.”

In 2019 Cleveland passed a lead safe ordinance.

The legislation requires every home gets inspected by a third party to make sure the home is safe.

Beginning in March 2021, each person who rents a home in Cleveland has to make sure through the city’s rental registry that a home is lead safe.

There are also federal funds available to help homeowners and property owners to fix their homes.

The Cleveland Department of Health maintains its own lead poisoning prevention program. Residents of the City of Cleveland should call 216.263.5323.

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