08.07.06 GCLAC Steering Committee reports progress and innovation addressing lead poisoning in NEO

Submitted by Norm Roulet on Mon, 08/14/2006 - 21:18.

In one respect Northeast Ohio is world-class: addressing the lead poisoning crisis rampant here and in all older communities of America. For this excellence in action, credit the St. Luke's Foundation and all affiliates of the Greater Cleveland Lead Advisory Council (GCLAC) and Concerned Citizens Organized Against Lead (CCOAL). GCLAC held our quarterly Steering Committee meeting on August 07, 2006, where University Hospital's Dr. Ash Sehgal, Director of the Center for Reducing Healthcare Disparities, presented his research findings on the implications of lowering the threshold level of blood lead poisoning considered a trigger for intervention from 10 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood to 5 micrograms per deciliter. The GCLAC Steering Committee strongly supports this action, which will make NEO the most progressive community in America and the first we know to take such bold and intelligent action, setting a safer standard for our citizens than that mandated by the Federal government.

The United States government's Centers for Disease Control incorrectly rules that 10 micrograms per deciliter is the appropriate trigger point where people should become concerned about lead poisoning, meaning only a small percentage of lead poison victims are ever identified and assisted to minimize the harm caused by lead to their bodies, minds, and society. At the GCLAC sponsored forum on lead poisoning held at the City Club of Cleveland, in spring, 2006, true lead poisoning expert Dr. Bruce Lanphear shared his research findings that there is no safe level of lead exposure (and that the CDC was infiltrated by the lead industry, explaining their dangerously high lead standard for America). Correctly informed health care professionals, like Roberta Anderson, Director of the MetroHealth lead clinic, tell their patients there is no safe or acceptable level of lead in the environment or human body... not even 5 micro grams per deciliter is safe. The state of Ohio EPA supports the understanding there is no safe level of lead exposure, as does all affiliates of GCLAC. Thus, the GCLAC Steering Committee debated, is 5 micrograms per deciliter a low enough standard for the future? No, we agreed, and our target is 0 micrograms per deciliter. But setting the 5 micrograms per deciliter standard is measurable under most current testing processes (many lead blood level tests do not measure below 5 micrograms per deciliter) and drives many important outcomes that are actionable.

Consider that Dr. Sehgal pointed out his research (inspired by hearing Dr. Lanphear's presentation) found that the following percent of children tested for lead poisoning in the following areas of NEO exceeded the trigger point for intervention of 10 micrograms per deciliter:

East side of Cleveland: 12%

West side of Cleveland: 9%

Inner ring suburbs of Cleveland: 2%

Outer ring suburbs of Cleveland: 0.1%

However, the following percent of children tested for lead poisoning in the following areas of NEO exceeded the more intelligent trigger point for intervention of 5 micrograms per deciliter:

East side of Cleveland: 43%

West side of Cleveland: 41%

Inner ring suburbs of Cleveland: 8%

Outer ring suburbs of Cleveland: 1%

It is important to also note that these numbers only reflect data for children tested for lead poisoning, which is required in high risk zip codes but actually reflects less than 50% of those children, and less than 20% of children in the inner ring – a tiny percentage beyond that. It is safe to say that actual lead poisoning rates are much higher than stated above, as too few parents test their children – all communities with large percentages of pre-1978 residential dwellings have high levels of lead in their communities, whether children are tested for that or not.

In lowering the standard, the GCLAC will publicize revised information to the media, political leaders, foundations, health care professionals, families and other cities. Therefore, lowering the threshold will increase awareness among a broader set of the population, and trigger more intervention earlier, certain to save more children from lifelong harm. Note, at 5 micrograms per deciliter, 25,000 children in Cuyahoga County are known to be harmed by lead each year... the unknowns are equally disturbing.

Dr. Lanphear has been speaking about the need to lower the threshold for a long time, and the changes now proposed by the GCLAC will make NEO a world leader in actually addressing the issue. GCLAC Lead Program Director Christine Haley Medina put our proposal to reduce the standard out before a meeting of the US EPA Region 5 in Chicago recently and she has been contacted by Chicago and Milwaukee with interest to analyze this transformative opportunity. In proceeding on this, we will extend discussions with Chicago and Milwaukee. Chicago doesn't have their 5 micrograms per deciliter test numbers available but is working on getting that together, and US EPA Region 5 may now host a conference on going to 5.

An interesting observation, from GCLAC debate on this issue, is that public health practice is preceding policy – standards are somewhat arbitrary and must be refined as more information is gathered. As we now know the 10 micrograms per deciliter standard is inadequate, practice among NEO affiliates of GCLAC is moving ahead of federal policy, offering NEO the opportunity to drive development of a better policy for the country.

In other important GCLAC business at the steering committee meeting, CCOAL founder and GCLAC Outreach and Advocacy Co-Chair Robin Brown announced CCOAL is planning seminars for Cleveland municipal school psychologists, informing them of the impact of lead poisoning on their students. We also discussed that CCOAL has formed a sub-committee dedicated to eradicating lead poisoning in East Cleveland and is meeting with East Cleveland mayor Eric Brewer to plan next steps there.

Other discussions celebrated that Cuyahoga County commissioners are now very concerned about lead poisoning and are asking GCLAC to recommend additional specific county-level actions thc county may support and help fund. Homebased childcare is a key topic of interest to the commissioners... the Infrastracture and Sustainability sub-committee recommends focusing on lead intervention in the homes of recent births, partnering with existing programs like Invest in Children and Help Me Grow.

In conclusion of the meeting, GCLAC co-chairman and Cleveland acting Health Department Director Matt Carroll stated it seems “the planets are aligned” and now offers an excellent opportunity to move lead more to the forefront of public awareness, as we continue to pursue our objective of complete lead poisoning eradication in NEO by 2010.

Thanks to Scene for covering lead crisis in NEO

Working with the GCLAC, I am very aware how the mainstream media whitewashes the lead crisis and environmentalism in general, in NEO. So, thanks to the independent press for covering what the PD and TV are paid not to cover by Sherwin Williams, Jones Day, Big Coal, utilities, steel, shipping, and WalMarting polluting golf-clubbing cronies, lobbyists and politicians in general...

This week, Scene did a very nice job bringing mainstream attention to the lead crisis in NEO, with a front page feature: "The Poison Kids: Sherwin-Williams knew for decades that its paint was toxic. Cleveland kids now pay the price."

I also give my respect to Don Larson and his family for going public in discussing the tragedy of lead poisoning that struck them, as they have four young children who were nrain damaged for life by lead in their Lakewood home. Don is an Information Technology professional and community leader who moved here from California and certainly didn't expect living in Lakewood would be catastrophic to him and generations of his family... that is the story most of the local media and "politicians" want to keep quiet, and most lead poisoning victims are too cowardly to expose. Don is far from alone in experiencing harm of lead first hand, but he is nearly alone in talking about his loss to help others prevent similar tragedy in their lives. Very heroic, Don... and Cleveland Scene... read below and think about this!

For most of her life, Alexandra Larson bought into the paint industry's portrait of lead victims as poor children, living in inner-city slums, who ate paint chips because they had bad parents. None of them looked like her kids: blond, blue-eyed, giggly girls who run on hardwood floors in the tree-lined safety of Lakewood, where cramped houses line up an arm's length from one another.

Then Larson's daughter, also named Alexandra, got sick. She wasn't yet two, and she was already making regular trips to the hospital because of asthma. When the Larsons learned that Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital was conducting an asthma and allergy study, they signed Alexandra up. A standard enrollment test screened kids for lead. The next day, the Larsons got a call: Alexandra had more than eight times the amount of lead considered poisonous.

She spent 10 days in the hospital, where doctors used a chemical process to pull the lead of out of her bloodstream. But the damage was done.

Now almost seven and nicknamed "Hobbit," she has a habit of beating her head against windows and walls. She's impulsive and easily falls into depression, imagining that no one likes her. She can count in Spanish, but not English. Her spelling skills don't stretch much further than "cat" and "dog." She had to repeat kindergarten, and it took occupational therapy for her to learn how to hold a pencil.

"I'm really worried about this as she gets older," Larson says.

This was not the fate the Larsons imagined eight years ago, when they moved from California to Lakewood so that Don Larson could get his MBA at Case Western Reserve. They planned to renovate their house, which was built in 1913. But money was tight, and they never got around to it. They didn't even consider lead a danger. Larson thought only kids who ate paint chips could get poisoned. Who knew that dust could be just as bad?

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