Wednesday, July 18th, 2007
Children at worst risk from lead
By Shelley Grieshop
Rebecca Poynter makes a face as family members discuss the scare they felt when. . .
WAPAKONETA - Rebecca's bright blue eyes, curly, blonde locks and innocent smile give no indication of the poison that still exists inside her body.
Lead - a highly toxic substance that can produce a wide range of adverse health e ffects - was found in abnormally high levels in the 21/2-year-old's blood prior to her first birthday.
There were no signs the baby was sick. Lead poisoning can be a silent killer.
"It can mimic flu-like symptoms so often people have no idea a child is exposed," said Brenda Eiting of the Auglaize County Health Department.
The Poynter family found out the disturbing news during a routine medical examination.
"We went to a Well Child clinic in Wapakoneta for a check-up," says the little girl's mother, Heather Poynter. "They had a questionnaire to fill out and one of the questions asked whether we lived in an older home and we did at the time."
Because many older homes still contain lead-based paints and lead-contaminated dust, a test was ordered by the staff at the Auglaize County Health Department. Three days later Heather Poynter and her husband, Tony, received a call to take their daughter to Children's Hospital in Dayton. Rebecca's test results showed 22 micrograms per deciliter. Ideally, children should test zero.
Approximately 310,000 U.S. children aged 1-5 years old - who are the most susceptible to lead poisoning - have blood lead levels greater than 10 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood, the level at which the Centers for Disease Control recommends public health action be initiated. Lead poisoning can cause learning disabilities, behavioral problems and at very high levels, seizures, coma and even death.
At the time the Poynter family received the news they were renting a home in Cridersville that was built in 1941.
"There was chipping paint outside, really bad," Poynter said, as her daughter cuddled between two older sisters on the couch.
Fortunately, Rebecca's level wasn't critically high. Doctors suspect she was exposed through her mother prior to birth. The toddler now attends ABC Center in New Bremen and is being closely monitored for signs of impairment. Currently she tests above average intellectually.
"We've been told problems could arise later when she's 4 or 5. You just don't know what nerves it could have affected," her mother said.
A child testing 40 or above is routinely hospitalized and given chelation therapy, a medical treatment that can make a youngster extremely sick while drawing the lead out of their system. Rebecca's ongoing treatment involves only diet restrictions.
"They placed her on a healthy, no fat, no greasy foods diet," Poynter said. "Basically, you get rid of the lead by washing it through your system."
Rebecca was retested for lead levels every other month after the initial diagnosis. In December, she was officially released from medical supervision by the Dayton hospital and placed in the care of her family physician. A recent reading was 6.5, on its way down, the family hopes.
Another daughter, Brittni, 13, also was tested when she became sick shortly after Rebecca was diagnosed. She was found to be 0.9 but not treated. Older members of the family didn't require testing because lead poisoning primarily affects young children.
Soon after Rebecca's diagnosis, the Poynters moved out of the deteriorating house and currently live along County Road 33A between St. Marys and Wapakoneta. Their rental home was examined by health officials who told them lead levels exceeded the maximum on their equipment, Poynter said.
The home later was remodeled by its owners, she added. Poynter said she'd like to see mandatory lead testing for all pregnant women and young children.
"If it hadn't been for the Well Child clinic we would never had known," she said.
The facts on lead poisoning:
• Symptoms of lead poisoning can be flu-like such as stomachaches and headaches, irritability and loss of appetite. The only way to know for sure if lead is a problem is to have a blood test performed.
• Lead exposure can result in IQ deficits, learning disabilities, behavioral problems, stunted or slowed growth and impaired hearing. At high levels, a child can suffer kidney damage, become mentally retarded, fall into a coma and die.
• Children between the ages of 12 and 24 months are at the greatest risk because the most frequent method of lead poisoning is hand-to-mouth.
• Lead dust, the equivalent of a single grain of salt, can cause a child to register an elevated lead level.
• In adults, lead can increase blood pressure and cause fertility problems, nerve disorders, muscle and joint pain, irritability and memory or concentration problems.
• Sources of lead poisoning include lead-based paints, hair dye and cosmetics, some candy, calcium supple-
ments, drinking water, crystal and ceramics (pottery). Also, many imported items such as crayons, vinyl miniblinds and children's jewelry. In June, various Thomas the Train wooden railway items were recalled because the surface paints used contained lead.
• Homes built before 1960 are most likely to contain lead paint. Today there are still an estimated 24 million homes that contain lead paint - about 40 percent of all U.S. housing.
• The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends hiring a professional to check residences for lead-based paints and to instruct how to remedy the situation. The CDC also suggests children under the age of 6 be tested, especially if lead poisoning is suspected.
- Shelley Grieshop