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Since the water crisis in Flint, Mich., when a scientific study uncovered high levels of lead contamination in residents’ drinking water, communities across the country – from cities like Hartford and New Haven to suburban school districts – have started examining the quality of their water and the pipes through which it flows. But, while this large-scale issue brought the long-term and damaging ramifications of lead poisoning to light, many homeowners and workers have already experienced its effects.
Few know the horror of taking a child in for a checkup and finding that his or her levels are two or three times the acceptable limit – 5mcg per deciliter of blood. As a parent’s panic sets in, their search for why their child has sudden health and behavioral problems attributed to lead exposure goes back to their home. For many living in buildings built before the 1980s, lead paint remains a concern, and even something as small as a chip or a dusting spread out over a large area can severely elevate the level of lead in a child’s blood.
However, while lead disproportionately affects children, adults aren’t immune. In fact, when construction workers start to tear down or rehabilitate these older buildings, that same lead paint can be inhaled and left on clothing. Without an employer following OSHA’s strict recommendations, workers soon enough discover that they’re living with a slew of health conditions caused by lead poisoning.
Yet, no one should put up with negligence, such as poorly maintained buildings and subpar working conditions, that exposes them to high levels of lead. In response, those sold a home or apartment with lead paint, parents who purchased illegal lead-covered toys, and workers exposed to this toxic substance have been filing lawsuits to recoup the costs related to immediate and ongoing medical treatments.
Lead Poisoning in Children
In Connecticut, the Department of Health’s 2013 figures show that, for children under age 6 tested for lead poisoning, 60,000 were reportedly exposed. From this group, 2,275 had bloodstream levels in the “poisoned” range. While, in this state, New Haven and Bridgeport had the highest incidence of childhood lead poisoning, Connecticut as a whole makes a concerted effort to test those under 6 years of age twice.
Yet, what options do families have once results come back positive? The state’s Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program found that, if lead in the home is responsible, a full abatement of exterior and common areas runs about $7,100 per apartment. However, as most cities don’t have costs set aside, expenses often fall directly onto the resident or the landlord. Nationally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that four million properties with lead paint are home to one or more children under age 6.
Yet, paint doesn’t have to be peeling off the walls to affect a child. The National Center for Healthy Housing (NCHH) found that just one gram of lead dust, roughly the size of a sugar packet, spread out over a large area exceeds the federal standard more than two times. Children, especially ones that like to explore, may come across it, and because of lead’s sweet taste, may continue to eat the paint or dust.
However, lead paint isn’t always the culprit. Lead-contaminated dirt, dust on pets’ fur, jewelry, lead plumbing, and even toys may contain small particles.
If a child gets exposed to lower levels, early signs, including loss of appetite, fatigue, abdominal pain, constipation, diarrhea, irritability, hyperactivity, learning disabilities, a lower IQ, and general behavioral problems indicate he or she may have ingested lead. But, should the amount increase, your child may experience damage to the nervous system, seizures, brain injuries, slowed growth, serious cognitive impairments, a coma, or even sudden death. Especially when a child under 6 years of age is exposed, symptoms tend to be more severe and lasting.
What options does a parent have? Short term, a child may require several years of chelation therapy to reduce the level of lead in the blood. Chelation, however, doesn’t undo the damage, and your child could require therapy and assistance well into adulthood.
Lead Poisoning in Adults
Adults, too, remain susceptible to the lasting damages of lead ingestion, and the home is one common source for exposure. Lead paint remained on the market until 1978, with corporations claiming it had no negative effects for decades, and as a result, many older apartment buildings, including Section 8 housing, and homes contain it. If a landlord or property owner is especially negligent, there’s a chance the paint job dates back to this period.
Yet, even if your home seems safe, many workers get exposed on the job:
- Employees working on an older building may end up inhaling lead dust or fumes.
- Dust containing lead gets on a worker’s hands or clothing. The dust may then come home and get inhaled by your children or spouse.
- Through lead smelting, a process involved in welding and soldering.
- Contaminated soil or air at a job site.
- Lead battery plants, where lead-acid batteries for cars get produced.
- Jobs involving pipe fitting, fishing weights, and ammunition.
- Demolition or renovation of older buildings.
- Chemical exposure, a possibility in foundries and gasoline refineries for those working with copper.
Once the dust enters your lungs, it then travels through your bloodstream, where it poses significant health consequences. In total, it’s estimated that 1.5 million workers could be exposed to lead on the job, with the majority employed through construction, manufacturing, and industrial fields. While OSHA has specific workplace guidelines for avoiding lead exposure, companies looking to reduce costs, unfortunately, may cut around proper safety protocol and not provide appropriate PPE.
Adults, after being exposed to high levels of lead, may develop:
- Kidney disease
- Neurological impairments that surface as behavioral problems, such as irritability or aggression
- Gastrointestinal effects, including constipation
- Reduced IQ
- Hearing problems
- Reduced or no appetite
- Fatigue or a lack of energy
- Sleeping difficulties
- Cramping and abdominal pain
- A lack of sensual response
Filing a Lawsuit
With the exception of certain class action lawsuits, most lead poisoning claims get handled on an individual basis. Who you pursue varies with the situation and occurrence:
What many tenants don’t realize is, landlords are legally obliged to notify you if a rental unit contains lead. In a seller-buyer relationship around a home, the same obligation exists. In either instance, a landlord or seller who doesn’t alert the new owner or buyer can be held responsible for all damages resulting from exposure. Among highly publicized cases, public housing residents in New Orleans given Section 8 apartments filled with lead paint and dust pursued the city’s HUD management team after years of exposure, poor maintenance, and no relocation to safer alternatives.
In the Workplace
After you find high levels of lead in your blood and can pinpoint your condition to an on-the-job situation, you may have to pursue a workers’ compensation claim for medical expenses and income. However, for pain and suffering, as well as emotional damage, you have the option to further take your employer to court over negligent safety practices and poor working conditions.
More recently, parents have brought class action lawsuits against local school districts after finding that drinking water contained high amounts of lead. In one case, Tait et al v. Butler Area School District et al., the school district had tested for lead over the summer, and while the results showed amounts 200 to 300 times the acceptable limit, staff waited five months to notify families. In the meantime, children continued to drink from the same water sources at school.