Rolling around on a living room carpet, digging for buried treasure in the backyard, even leaning against a windowsill to see if Mom or Dad are home from work — all normal childhood happenings, all potential scenarios for children to be poisoned by lead.
“They’re kids, they’re going to play in the dirt. I had no idea it could be poisonous,” said 25-year old Rachael Vasquez.
Vasquez and her boyfriend, Frederick Hodge, have four children who have been poisoned by lead.
When the couple began renting their home in Willard, they did not know the walls and carpet were laced with a poison that could affect their children for life.
Whether inhaled or ingested, lead can severely impact a child’s brain development. According to recent statistics, one in 20 American preschoolers have unhealthy levels of lead in their body.
In very high levels, lead poisoning can cause vomiting, a staggered gait, muscle weakness, seizures, or coma.
Three-year old Valerie Hodge developed shakes and tremors as a result of lead poisoning. Four-year old Darren Young has speech and behavior problems.
It was early in 2007 when the children’s blood lead levels were first tested at the Huron County Health Department; Vasquez said the results shocked and scared her.
The Health Department determined that lead dust in the carpet throughout the home had been poisoning the children. Lead paint that had chipped off of the outside of the home had also contaminated the soil.
The family has spent countless hours in doctor’s offices and hundreds of dollars to stabilize lead levels in the home.
“It’s actually consumed our whole year,” Vasquez said.
The walls were repainted, the carpet was torn out and the soil was continuously tested.
“We were going to move,” Vasquez said. “We’re still thinking about it.”
Erie County Health Commissioner Pete Schade said that infants and children are the most susceptible to lead poisoning.
“The problem with lead-based paint is that lead-based paint worked really, really good,” Schade said.
Although lead paints were taken off the market in the late 1970’s, many older homes are still coated inside and out.
When the paint begins to peel, chip and crack it becomes a serious health hazard.
Vasquez and Hodge are now worried about their 9-month old son, Charles Hodge, who has just become old enough to be tested for lead poisoning.
“If his kidney problems are from the lead, I think its going to affect him the rest of his life,” Vasquez said.
The children now take vitamin supplements and their lead levels are becoming increasingly stabilized.
“It’s scary but after you research it you can have some control over it a little bit,” Vasquez said. “It gets easier.”
Schade said that nutrition can affect how much a person is affected by lead exposure. Fresh, leafy greens help the body combat lead poisoning, Schade said.
When it comes to removing lead-based paint or lead-contaminated carpet, Schade said either leave it to the professionals or take the time to become properly trained to handle the airborne hazards.
“Lead-based paint by itself that’s been painted over several times isn’t as big of a worry (as exposed lead paint),” Schade explained.
While children and infants are the most susceptible to lead poisoning, people of all ages can be affected.
Lead poisoning is nothing new, since the 1920’s children were poisoned — even killed — by ingesting or inhaling lead-based paints. Young children who chewed on lead-painted toys, cribs, railings or other household fixtures were hospitalized; of the lucky ones who survived, many were permanently brain damaged from the poison.
The federal government has a lead-based paint disclosure form that realtors and landlords must sign if they are aware of lead-based paint in the homes.
The problem is, even the realtors and landlords may not know until it’s too late.
That’s what happened to the Rachael Vasquez and Frederick Hodge and their children, who are struggling to regain a sense of normalcy.
Vasquez said she never thought it would happen to her.