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June 2015: Mama Emma in Upstate New York

EmmaMama Emma’s Story
from Upstate New York

On Wednesday, May 20, 2015 I took my 12-month-old daughter Ava for her one-year well visit. At the end of her appointment they did her finger-prick to check her iron and lead levels.

I never thought anything of it, and left the office thinking everything was great. I didn’t even get out of the parking lot before I got a call on my cell phone that I needed to bring her back in—her lead level was at 14.6 [with the finger prick test].

Of course I was concerned, but the nurses assured me that sometimes it’s high with the finger-prick, but a lot lower when they do the actual blood draw. We were told that there’s not much to do about it and that the health department would be in contact with us. In the meantime I was told to schedule another appointment to have it checked sometime in the next 1-3 months. Of course I requested it be redone in 1 month, not 3 months (why would I want to wait 3 months to find out if it’s going up or down?!) I was shocked that the doctor’s office made light of it so much (“it’s higher than normal, but still really nothing to worry about; she’ll be fine, we just want to keep an eye on it.” )

I got in contact with Lead Safe America through someone on Facebook that told me about them. After asking questions on their Facebook Group and getting info from Tamara Rubin, I learned that there is nothing “OK” (or safe) about my daughter’s lead level. I was advised by Tamara to get out of our house until we could determine the source of the lead exposure. After staying up all night reading and researching, my husband and I decided that we would leave in the morning.

Thursday morning I called the health department to find out if they were going to come and test our home—and that is when they told me that they can’t come because “her BLL wasn’t high enough” [in Upstate NY where we live it has to be 15 or higher before they will come and test the home.] While I was on the phone with the county’s hazard assessor, the county nurse called my husband on the other line and said that my daughter’s lead level from the venous draw was actually a BLL 18, and that the health department would be coming to set up a time to assess our home.

We had moved into this rental house in November of 2014, and I never once thought of the dangers that lead-based paint could pose.

The house was built in 1930, and has old painted wooden siding that has chipping paint all over it. It really is an eyesore, but we’re not picky, we just needed a place to live—and as I said, we never thought about lead-based paint (the landlord never provided the lead disclosure form or pamphlets that I have since learned that he is required by law to provide). We were moving from 8 hours away and were just happy to have found a house at an affordable price and were glad to have found something so quickly.

So we moved out on May 22; we moved in with my husband’s brother and sister-in-law, and have been living with them ever since.The health department came out to our house and tested a few areas and found the exterior to be the main culprit in our baby’s lead poisoning. The whole outside of the house tested at “greater than 9.9” on his XRF analyzer. There were a few other areas inside the house that tested for lead high enough to actually require the landlord to remediate the hazards: the closet door in our bedroom; temmahousehe cabinets in our bedroom; the door frame in the kitchen. And then there were a few other places that registered ‘safe’ [under 1.0 on his analyzer]—those don’t require any attention by the landlord. But our house is carpeted—and since the health department didn’t take any dust samples or soil samples (even when I asked them to), we have decided not to go back; we are not going to put our babies back into that house not knowing if the carpets are full of lead dust or if the soil around the house is full of lead!

Since the county won’t do a full hazard assessment, we’re not taking any chances. [And since the areas that still have ‘safe levels’ of chipping lead-based paint are not going to be required to be fixed by our landlord – and we understand these levels are not actually safe – especially since they test pink with the LeadCheck swabs, we do not feel safe going back to that house.] –
I’m a little surprised at how the health department has acted like this is not a big deal (maybe it’s because I’m the parent, but it is certainly a big deal to me—this is my baby!) So we have been homeless—and looking for a hoEmmaKidsuse or apartment to rent—and it has been so hard! We live in such a depressed area where the houses are all very old; so far we have been unable to find a rental that is newer construction (or alternately at least old construction but safe for children).

Few people around here are aware of the dangers of lead-based paint in old houses.

We often find ourselves wondering if we’re being overly “paranoid” about it because nobody understands—they think we’re “ making a big deal out of nothing”.

We have a lot going on right now because of this.,,we are in the process of trying to find out how we can hold our landlord accountable for some of this…we are in the process of trying to find a new place to live and that includes tons of emails, phone calls, and lots of trips all over the county to look at things only to find out that they are old trashy places that would put my baby right back in harm’s way…

We’re encountering a lot of expenses along the way: we’ve paid rent on a house that we are unable to live in, we are paying for a storage unit that everything is slowly being moved into, we are spending tons on gas money since we had to move—lots of trips back and forth from our old house to our temporary housing that is 18 miles away, driving all over the county trying to find a rental, and a lot of eating out because things are so crazy. And we’re gone so much and I’m spending almost every waking moment searching the Internet for rentals or legal info or trying to figure out, “now what do I do for my baby after she’s been poisoned?” So this has been our life for the past 3 weeks. (Oh—and on top of this, we have two older children, ages 3 and 5, and we are waiting to hear back from their blood draws to check their lead levels.)

Note from Lead Safe America: Emma (like many of the parents we try to help and advise) lives in a part of the country where rents range from $375 to $800 a month. In the grand scheme of things, we wish we had an endowment – so when a mama like Emma contacts us we can “swoop” her family up and immediately relocate them to a safe home, helping to cover their relocation costs to make their crisis a little more manageable in one small way. We do not yet have anything like the beginnings of an endowment (and if you have the means to make a considerable donation to help us begin an such an endowment please donate HERE), however if you would like to donate specifically to help us help one specific family at a time—right now it’s Emma and her family—or other families in her situation (we’re getting contacted by dozens of new families each week now that it is summer and so much renovation is going on!) please consider making a tax-deductible contribution HERE. [First month, last month and security deposit for Emma (or a family like hers) would be $2,400 at the MOST – and it seems like if we spread the word, together we should be able to find the resources to help them in this way; if you can’t donate yourself, please do share this link and invite your friends, family, co-workers and associates to help in some way if they can. Contributions in any amount are welcome.

Thank you.

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