Our children were poisoned by the work of a contractor that we hired to paint the exterior our beautiful, Colonial Revival-period home in the Historic Irvington neighborhood in Portland, Oregon.
The painter told us he was certified to safely handle the lead paint used on houses built prior to 1978 (a certification necessary in order to prepare the exterior surfaces for painting.) His bid seemed high ($18,000+) but we were willing to pay it because we believed his training/certification would ensure that the work was done safely.
He also told us it was safe to stay in our home while he did the work as he was "only working on the exterior and therefore there was no risk at all posed to our children."
He lied. Not only was he not certified, but he used the most dangerous and even illegal methods for paint removal: pressure washing, dry scraping and open-flame-torch burning. Our children became violently ill with flu-like symptoms (we later learned this was from inhaling the fumes from the heated/vaporized lead paint—which, contrary to the contractor’s naive assurances, actually permeate an entire neighborhood! When we had them tested we were told they had lead poisoning and that we needed to move out of our home until the property could be decontaminated and be made safe for them to live in again.
As a result of this lie and the actions of this painter, our children have permanent/irreversible brain damage that has caused and will continue to cause learning disabilities, behavioral problems, aggression, headaches and other physical and neurological symptoms for the rest of their lives.
Avi (pictured above at about 1 year old) was poisoned when he was only 8 months old. He was not crawling yet. He was solely breast feeding. He did not eat paint chips or even have access to floor dust. We did not live in a low-income neighborhood (far from it! – the appraised value of the home in 2007 was $670,000). And our home had been remodeled, was generally in good shape and did not have peeling, chipping paint anywhere. We did not fit the outdated, preconceived demographic for lead poisoning and it took us nearly two months from the time the boys were poisoned to get them diagnosed because our pediatrician at Kaiser did not think to consider lead poisoning as a possibility.
Unfortunately, pediatricians don’t routinely test all children for this increasingly common and preventable disease. They preselect based on stereotypes and forty-year-old demographics [poor children in sub-standard inner city housing] that don’t match today’s at-risk population for lead poisoning [a demographic which has been expanded to include children of middle and upper income homeowners renovating "classic" (older construction) houses.] With the ubiquity and levels of microscopic lead dust present in and around today’s older buildings (our homes, schools, libraries, stores, etc. an incalculable number of sources), it is prudent that all children—including yours be tested.
October is National Lead Poisoning Prevention Month, and Healthy Child Healthy World encourages you to take some time to learn about danger zones in your home and how to protect your children. Here are some resources for getting started:
Editor’s Note: Each year, we invite our community to help us identify exceptional moms working in their communities to create a healthier environment for children.
We get so many wonderful submissions, we’ve started a blog series to feature the inspirational stories of our nominees – like Tamara’s story above. Stay tuned for the announcement of our 2011 “Mom on a Mission” winner in October who will receive a $5,000 grant from Lifetime Television to continue her work and will be honored at a Healthy Child event in New York City.