By Sarah Godwin
In August 2013 at my daughter Nancy Reid’s 9 month check up I was told that while she wouldn’t be receiving any shots, she did need to have her blood drawn for a routine test to check her lead level. I agreed and went straight to the lab to have it done. A few days later the doctor called to let me know her blood lead level (BLL) was a “6.” He said not to worry; that usually when they showed up high it was a “lab error” and that he would just retest in a month. This sounded reasonable (as I was not very familiar with lead as a concern at the time) and in a month I took her in for a re-test.
Nancy’s September test results indicated a BLL of 7.5.
During the doctor’s call to inform me of the increase in her BLL he said she was “the first elevated case in our county in years”! He also asked me why I “hadn’t done anything to help her” in the month since her first test.
I was dumbfounded.
Hadn’t he told me last month’s level of 6 wasn’t bad—and it was “probably a ‘lab error'”?
I dropped off my two exchange students at their sports practices and headed to Bed Bath and Beyond to find filters and vacuums and anything that would get rid of lead in my house! As I entered in tears – feeling like the worst mom in the world – the employee that came over to help me quickly left to get the manager. I explained what I needed it for and he went to his computer and looked up what filter was the best and so on. Very helpful, and told me he would pray for my family as I checked out…still in tears.
I went home and started to clean the house like never before! I set up the filters everywhere in the house and then I turned to the Internet to find out what I should do next. I couldn’t find anything…no direction on how I make my house safe, no one locally I could call to make my child better…nothing. So I did what every mom does these days—I posted my questions on Facebook!
By the end of the day I had one response about a local government office that might be able to help. I called them the next day and they let me know there are grants available but that I “didn’t qualify”, so they would send me some written info and good luck to me. Square one again.
So I posted on Facebook again.
This time I was told of a lab in Erie that could test our home for lead. I called them, scheduled the test, and gave them my credit card info. Then we waited…
…And we waited….
The scheduled day came in October for the testing. When he was finished, the man from the lab said he would have the results to us in 10 days or less.
“10 days or less”.
On the 10th business day I called the lab and they let me know the results had been mailed out. Two days later I received the results of the wipe tests (which measured the amount of lead in samples taken of dust residue on our floors)—but not the test results from the tests done using an XRF instrument—showing the location(s) of any lead source(es) detected in the house.
From the wipe tests we concluded that her nursery was the safest room in the house. The test results there were less than 20 micrograms per square foot of lead. Our bedroom (where we usually co-sleep with her) however was 320 micrograms per square foot.
From that day on (until we eventually left our home), Nancy Reid and I slept in the nursery.
The XRF tests were promised to be e-mailed to me 5 times over the next 5 days. Then on the sixth day the lab let me know they had “lost the results in the computer somewhere“. They would “get back to me”.
Over a month after they had come out to do the tests they finally sent me the results so I could pass them along to the contractors.
Our third blood lead test revealed that at 11 months Nancy Reid’s BLL was still rising—her BLL was now 8.
After the house was tested I called the redevelopment office back and asked if they would recommend any contractors. They said they “would trust only 3 out of all of them” in Erie. So I called each of those three and scheduled an appointment – assuming at the time that by then my test results would be in hand as promised. Without the test results, the contractors were unable to create a full scope of work or bid.
The first contractor told me that I was doing the process all wrong and I was a horrible mother for letting my child become poisoned. (We did not follow up with him for his bid). He told me to call an agency that he said would help me. The only help the agency gave me was the advice to “not let your daughter put anything in her mouth – then she wouldn’t be poisoned”…
After waiting a month for bids we finally received one at the end of November.
We wanted the work started right away so we accepted it rather than wait on the third and last company to come back with their bid. We packed up our house, found friends to take our animals for the 30-45 days estimated for the project and moved into a rental house. This was the beginning of December 2013. Around the same time, Nancy Reid’s 4th BLL test result came in, she was now at 6. Just removing her from our room (the apparent primary source of her exposure) may have been responsible for lowering her level.
Over the next month I was connected with Lead Safe America Foundation’s “MisLEAD Moms & Dads” group on Facebook and learned about how, because of her levels being above a 5, she qualified for the early intervention program in PA. I called and scheduled her for an evaluation. The evaluation was reassuring and they said that at this time there was no concern, but they would continue to monitor her until she was 3 years old just to be sure.
We had been given an estimate to be back in our home by January 16, 2014.
On January 29, 2014 we were allowed to come back into the house to see the progress that had been done.
Because of yet another delay from the lab, the work had not been started until December 21st.
The contractors we had worked feverishly; however the “polar vortex” in January delayed much of the work.
Today, February 4th, we are still out of our house, now living in a hotel, hoping to get to go home soon.
Our resources are running low and what we had budgeted for this project is quickly being spent on hotel, food out, and all those little “extras” that come with any construction project. However, we won’t go back home until it is safe.
Nancy Reid’s BLL has continued to drop—with her last level at a 4.
We are now in the process of finding a new doctor, because our current one deems this level “normal” and will no longer test her.
Although this has been a difficult and trying experience, we are feeling positive about the progress we are making to help our daughter. We are thankful that we are lucky enough to have the resources to take care of what needs to be done, and can’t imagine the hardship so many other families go through – families who don’t have the resources and don’t know where to turn.
Note from Tamara Rubin
Lead Safe America Foundation’s Executive Director:
We share this story with you because we have heard many of it’s most disturbing/infuriating aspects before. Sadly, it is not unique; this repetition it is both so tragic and so unnecessary!
That her doctor told her a BLL 4 was “normal” or “okay” is a story we have heard so many times before—when the natural BLL (of pre-industrial humans) is actually 0.016!)
That the doctor gave her no “next steps” and wondered why she had done nothing – is also not new.
That she felt pressure to buy, clean and change filters and felt guilt for possibly “not cleaning enough” – is also not new.
In MisLEAD, Dr. Bruce Lanphear explains that studies have clearly shown that a parent cannot “clean enough” (with any normal housecleaning techniques) to effectively remove the invisible trace amounts of lead dust that are enough to poison a child. Levels as low as 5 micrograms of lead in one square foot of house dust have been shown to be toxic to children, yet currently the EPA’s only official (clearly inadequate) statement is still that a level above 40 micrograms per square foot is unsafe.
Can you see a microgram of lead to clean it up off the floor? I know I can’t! [One of my favorite quotes from the film: “That’s not the answer, a Swiffer Mop!” -Rebecca Morley, Executive Director, National Center for Healthy Housing.]
Many decades (nearly a century actually) of lead-industry influence and their successful effort to intentionally create myths and stereotypes (of irresponsible, neglectful mothers that do not clean enough and thus are responsible for the poisoning of their children) have infiltrated public consciousness to the degree that we accept them as fact and do not even recognize them as iconic myth or fictional constructs. We, as mothers, doubt ourselves because these myths are so ingrained in our culture.
Our best tool in combating this ignorance is educating parents, and empowering mothers to spread the word and change how we culturally understand this issue. Thank you Sarah, for bravely sharing this first part of your journey.