My daughter Josie was lead poisoned when she was very young. We moved into a very old rental house on Story Avenue in Louisville, Ky—when she was just about 3 months old.
Knowing what we know now – she was likely poisoned as soon as we moved in and her levels didn’t start to go down until she was three years old – three years of a continuously elevated blood lead level, yet almost no one seemed to know what to do – or to even be appropriately concerned about it.
We didn’t learn that she was poisoned until she was 9 months old. We took her for her check up and the doctor told us she had dropped from the 10th percentile for weight down to the 5th percentile.
At that appointment, our doctor wanted “to rule out lead”, so he tested her and the finger-prick test indicated a blood lead level (BLL) of 10 micrograms per deciliter, so he ordered a follow up venous draw at the hospital and that test came back with a BLL of 9.
We looked for the source of the lead but were very naïve about that—and received little help or direction from anyone at the doctor’s office. As many moms these days do – I turned to the Internet for answers. I then got some LeadCheck swabs and tested everything I could think of and also tested our water by sending off a sample.
We found lead in our old porcelain bathtub, in our window blinds, and a few places where the paint tested pink or red with the swab kit, so we repainted a little, stopped using that tub and replaced the blinds.
We thought that we were done after that.
Our doctor had offered to retest Josie’s blood at her next check up (3 months later) and he said he was unhappy that she had an elevated lead level but that “because it was just a 9” that “all the research showed that it should not cause her any major issues”.
That doctor then left the practice we were going to, and – as time passed – other doctors in the group made no effort to continue to test Josie. It appeared that it was up to us to remember to ask for her lead levels to be retested.
As more months went by, and more “well baby visits”, a couple of times I told the doctor that I was upset about her lack of appetite. I asked about it, and whether or not it might be related to the lead exposure, but they continued to say that a BLL 9 was “ok” and that retesting was not on their list of concerns, that she was “fine” and her weight was “ok, really.”
I think – in retrospect (as a parent knowing what I know now) – this makes absolutely NO sense, but at the time I wanted to believe she was o.k.; I wanted to believe that we had removed the lead threats in the house… so I did not push to have her re-tested. That was my mistake as well as theirs, in hindsight.
Josie’s weight became a concern again when she was just about two years old, and so the doctor did tests for lead and also gluten intolerance. Her level this time was now a BLL 10—and she also tested positive for gluten intolerance.
I was livid. This was 15 months after her first positive blood lead test and her level had gone up.
I got on the Internet again and found Tamara’s site, but online information alone couldn’t help me identify/pinpoint the specific hazards in my home or confirm what might be the continued source of my baby girl’s exposure.
To think that the doctor could have – at any time up until now – suggested rigorous hand and foot washing and explained that lead can come in from the outside of the home and so forth—but that they didn‘t—simply infuriates me.
All we needed was some clear advice from them and a little bit of concern as well.
We again switched doctors. This time to a clinic with lead testing in their own office and a machine that gave us her BLL results in a few minutes, but the same ignorance and blithe attitude about lead persisted in that office, too.
That doctor insisted that her picky eating and low appetite “should not be caused by lead”.
The gluten intolerance however, they said, definitely could—and suggested that it could in turn also possibly increase the bio-absorption of any lead she was exposed to— but this doctor made no real effort to address either of those concerns.
By this point she had become anemic – yet nothing was done about that either – a recommendation to supplement with iron did not come until much, much later – until her anemia got really bad. My daughter’s brand new baby teeth also developed HOLES. All over her front teeth there are actual holes in her teeth.
All in all, we did find that with hand washing being the first step, that her lead levels slowly went down, but too stress how slowly, it was almost a whole year before we got down to a 4.
It was that year that I got introduced to Tamara through John Cullen of LockUp Lead. Both John and Tamara helped me realize that microscopic lead dust was actually floating in the indoor air in our lead-painted old house—we were breathing it and it was all over our hands and feet every minute we were there, impossible to get away from.
So we moved.
Josie will be tested again in a couple of months, but last summer, right before we moved, she had a BLL of 4.
Tamara visited then- right when we moved in to the new place. She came to Louisville to show her film. She stayed with us at our home and while we visited she checked out our new home for any hazards.
Thanks to Tamara’s visit – we found that the tub in our new rental home also had very high lead levels (over 300,000 ppm lead, as measured with an XRF—and it even tested positive with a swab test)—so we had it re-coated.
When Tamara arrived we had really just started to move in to the new place and were still bringing over boxes of stuff. One thing I had made sure to bring over very early was a painting that had been my mother’s. It was one of the first things I hung on the wall in our new home. The painting was from the 1950’s and my mother had purchased it on a trip to Haiti. It was badly deteriorating – the paint was actually flaking off. I love the painting and had held onto it —considering it to be a project I was looking forward to restoring.
While we were sitting at the dining room table chatting, Tamara looked up and saw the painting (shown here) and suggested we test it with her Niton XRF. It turned out to be one of the most toxic lead items in the house at more than 324,000 ppm lead!! For “fun”, we estimated how many centimeters of paint were missing from the painting and then figured out how many micrograms of lead per centimeter squared there were likely to be in that missing paint – and with a back of the napkin calculation – Tamara determined that the amount of lead that had worn off that one painting was more than enough to contaminate our entire home (well beyond the 40 micrograms per square foot considered unsafe by the EPA)!
To think we moved to protect our baby and I hung that up on the wall – after all we had been through!
Josie is now three years old. Her tooth decay and anemia are significant issues still. We supplement with iron, but she is very pale with red circles under her eyes. [You can’t see the red circles in these photos I have included but you can see her pallor.]
I hope that our story helps other families understand that if you cannot find the source, its not fair to continue to live in the place where poisoning is going on, unless you have no choice at all.
Get out of there—fast.