Why You Should Care About Lead
The effects of lead poisoning can take years before they surface, so the connection with lead is easy to miss. Lead poisoning can happen in any home built before 1978. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, delinquent behaviors in teenagers with lead exposure were higher than their unaffected counterparts, and bone lead, thought to represent cumulative lead exposure, is higher in adjudicated delinquents.
- Decreased IQ
- Attention Difficulties/ADHD
- Learning Difficulties
- Impulse Control/Behavior Issues
- Slowed Growth
- Other Medical Issues, including hearing problems and decreased kidney function. Though rare, it can also cause seizures, coma and death.
How Big of a Problem is this in Lewiston/Auburn?
Lewiston/Auburn has the highest rate of lead poisoning in the state. Between 2010 and 2014, an estimated 429 Androscoggin County kids (0-36 months) had lead levels at or above 5 μg/dL. Approximately 358 of those kids lived in L/A. An estimated 82 additional L/A kids (36-71 months) were poisoned in the twin cities during that same time period.
Note: There is NO safe level of lead exposure. Even a minor childhood exposure has been shown to have permanent effects because it affects the child’s developing nervous system.
Testing for Lead Exposure
KIDS LEGAL has partnered with the B Street Health Center (St. Mary’s Community Clinical Services) to encourage increased lead testing so we can provide support for those who have been affected. However, any medical provider can test your clients for lead.
Children can and should be tested for current lead exposure. Though past exposure is harder to identify without a history of lead testing, evidence of past lead exposure may be found in x-rays because lead deposits in the bones.
If you think lead is an issue, your clients should ask for a blood test to see if there is ongoing exposure. If past lead exposure could be a source of current troubles, your clients should talk to their doctors about the benefits and risks of having an x-ray.
You generally will not be able to tell if your client has been lead poisoned just by looking at him/her. The only way to know for sure is to do a blood test (for current exposure) and an x-ray (for past, undocumented exposure). Below is an abbreviated list of relevant symptoms that may surface years after exposure:
- Aggression, violence, hostility, irritability, antisocial or delinquent behavior
- Attention problems/ADHD/ ADD
- Auditory processing alterations
- Cognitive function deficits
- Decreased educational performance
- Decreased IQ
- Decreased non-verbal reasoning ability
- Decreased short-term memory
- Delayed neurodevelopment
- Difficulty sleeping
- Hearing impairment
- Learning difficulties
- Perceptual function deficits
- Verbal function deficits
For a more complete list, visit http://www.lead.org.au/fs/fst7.html
Questions for Your Client
- Do you spend > 10 hours per week in a house, apartment or mobile home built before 1978? What about when you were younger?
- Do you spend time with an adult whose job exposes him/her to lead? (E.g., construction, painting, metalwork)
- Do you have a sibling, apartment neighbor, or close friend that has been diagnosed with lead poisoning?
- Are there painted wooden windows in your home?
- Have you broken any bones recently?
- If your client was exposed to lead as a child, the lead may have settled into his/her bones. If s/he broke a bone recently, the lead may have been let back out into his/her system, causing a new acute lead exposure, which may have contributed to the delinquent behaviors.
Treatments to Consider
If you are making an argument for treatment rather than punishment, consider including these options to address the behaviors that might be related to your client’s previous or ongoing lead exposure.
- Nutritional support to combat further exposure.
- Healthy Androscoggin training on preventing further lead exposure.
- Rehabilitation and special education services.
- Behavioral treatment focused on tangible tools to aid impulse control issues in the moment.
- Psychological counseling if the teen has pica behaviors (where he/she eat things that are not food, such as paint chips).
- Medical evaluations, including tests for auditory processing disorder.
- Medical plans to ensure monitoring of lead exposure, effects on kidneys, brain, etc.
- Mentorship as a means of leading by example with regards to decision making.
Our services are free to all low-income families. When the parents of your patients learn that their children have elevated blood lead levels, you can tell them to call us for help understanding their legal rights. For more information, visit KIDS LEGAL Can Help.