From mama Lisa in Missouri
On November 23, 2010 my son, Luca was born. He was perfect and I loved him at first sight. I did everything I could to keep him safe and healthy such as researching to find the best car seats, breastfeeding him until 15 months, and reading all the books I could on raising a baby. Still I could not protect him from the one thing I’d never learned about as being a hazard where I lived: lead.
At 9 months my son started walking and talking. His two favorite words were “uh-oh” and “vroom vroom”. He continued to mimic and learn new words until 15 months. At 15 months he just stopped talking, responding to his name, and was avoiding eye contact. I panicked and started researching what could be wrong with him. The Internet kept saying that regression like that could mean he was Autistic. We scheduled an appointment with our doctor. During our conversation she asked if he’d had a lead test. I said no, that there’s no way he could be poisoned because we didn’t have lead in our home—it’d been “completely renovated”! She told me it was important and convinced me to get the test that day.
A few days later I got a call from Luca’s doctor saying he was lead poisoned. His blood lead level was 25 ug/dL! I remember being shocked and saying, “How is this even possible—where could he have been poisoned?” I called the City to see if they could come out for an inspection and I was given the standard response that it could be months before they could make it out, so I started calling private lead inspectors. One lady answered and told me she was good friends with people in the City and would help me get the City to come out and inspect our house. Minutes later the City called and hours later they came out to inspect our house.
Right away when the lead inspector walked up he said, “I bet it’s here on the outside of your door frame and windows.” He used his XRF gun to scan our house and it turns out the lead paint was on the outside of our house. Our son had been playing outside in the wood chips underneath the window that had some flaking paint. We also found out our soil was contaminated and we were tracking lead dust in our house. Luca had also been touching our door frame—that had lead paint on it—every day on his way out the door.
The City came in and remediated the exterior of our home. We thought it was safe to live in our home again. My son’s lead levels started dropping…then it started to plateau. I had the City come back out to check our house. They discovered we had unsafe levels of lead in our soil and that we were still getting lead dust on our floor where my son was playing. We also discovered the apartment building next to us was shedding lead paint chips—and when it would rain the water would push the chips into our backyard where my son was playing. Our dog was also tromping around in the backyard and then bringing in the dust.
I wanted to move. I begged my husband to move. He was a police officer and had to abide by a residency rule to live in the city for 7 years. At his point we’d only lived in the city for about 4 and a half. We applied for a residency waiver saying that over 90% of the properties in the city contained lead. We didn’t want to chance moving into another lead contaminated home since our son was poisoned so badly. We wanted to move to the county in a home that was built after 1978. Sadly the police board turned us down.
So I started calling my Mayor and Alderman—I wanted them to help me and my neighborhood. So many properties had the same flaking paint posing a threat to so many other kids. The Mayor wouldn’t listen, my Alderman wouldn’t listen and the news refused to run any stories about lead because the Mayor was running for re-election. (I actually did a story with a news station and they blatantly told me they couldn’t run it until after the election!) During the election, advertisements ran on radio stations geared towards African Americans, saying our Mayor fixed the lead problem and no African Americans kids were poisoned. He lied about the total number of poisoned kids. I was more upset than ever. For some reason I thought our Mayor would fix the problem if he knew about it. Sadly, at this point he didn’t care—and I was stuck living in an unsafe neighborhood where my child couldn’t play outside.
We continued to complain and fight to get the properties around us cleaned up. We were successful with some, but not many.
My son is now 3. His lead level is 7. He’s been a 6 or 7 for almost a year now. We finally moved out of the city. I can only hope now he will have a chance to recover. His teacher suggested I fill out a packet to apply for Special School District so he can receive services for early interventions for some of the issues he’s facing. I also took him to a play therapist and she noticed characteristics that “would also suggest mild Aspergers”. We are continuing to work on early interventions in hope my son will lead a normal life even though he’s still poisoned.