Bryan P. Sears//October 24, 2016
//October 24, 2016
Shana Boscak is overwhelmed with feelings — “guilt and anger and a lot of shame” and a little luck — as she holds her son, Zoltan, and introduces the happy, smiling baby as a “lead-poisoned child.”
Zoltan’s elevated lead levels were discovered after mandatory lead testing at his one-year checkup before he showed symptoms and before the poisoning could get worse.
“We never meant to give him lead poisoning and we never thought it could happen to us,” said Boscak, who lives in Baltimore’s Hampden neighborhood. “I’ve seen the billboards and I know lead poisoning happens in Baltimore, but I never thought it could happen to my child. If it had been a threat to us, someone would have told us.”
Boscak made her comments as part of a lead-poisoning awareness campaign held Monday at Liberty Elementary School in Baltimore by the Green and Healthy Homes Initiative and state officials, coinciding with National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week. Those same advocates are hoping to educate parents on the need for testing even as they look to end lead poisoning in children in five years.
Ruth Ann Norton, president and chief executive officer of Green and Healthy Homes Initiative, said while cases are on the decline, more can be done, and that starts with education and wider testing of children.
All Maryland children 2 years old and younger are now supposed to be tested for lead poisoning regardless of where they live. The change announced, a year ago, represents an expansion of a program where the only children tested lived in at-risk ZIP codes or were enrolled in Medicaid.
In 2014, the state tested more than 109,000 children for lead poisoning of the more than 527,000 children statewide identified by the 2010 Census. Of those tested, nearly 2,400 children had lead poisoning, the lowest number of cases since the state started collecting data in 1994.
Baltimore city reported the highest rate of cases, at 30 percent, despite seeing an 86 percent drop over the last decade. But Somerset, Allegany and Prince George’s counties all had rates of about 25 percent or higher, according to a report last month from the Maryland Department of the Environment.
Dr. Howard M. Haft, the state’s deputy public health secretary, said new a targeting plan looking at lead poisoning as a statewide program, as well as required 12- and 24-month checkups for children will help identify and ultimately reduce cases.
“In 1979, when I was a researcher early in my career, testing children and adults for lead would seem to be an overwhelming mountain to climb – that there were so many people who were lead-poisoned,” Haft said. “Now we’ve come so close.”
Department of the Environment Secretary Ben Grumbles said the state is also increasing enforcement efforts, particularly with rental properties.
“We are committed to enforcing the law and will go after landlords that don’t comply with the law,” he said.
Norton said later this week, her organization will release a strategic plan to end lead poisoning in children in five years. She declined to discuss specifics but said the plan contained “strong and stark proposals” and would require legislation or regulation at the federal level.
“Testing is a wonderful thing but testing is not prevention,” said Norton. “We sit in a country where half a million children a year are poisoned by lead and that is pretty shocking for something that we’ve known for a hundred years has no safe level, causes irreversible damage and is entirely preventable.”
Boscak and her wife, Alexis, a doctor at University of Maryland’s R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center, set about restoring the home they purchased five years ago as they started their family.
But no one told them their house had lead-tainted marine paint on the metal roof. Real estate agents encouraged Shana Boscak to sign a waiver letting the seller out of lead-paint testing because “all houses in the city have a little lead.” A city inspector never mentioned it when they had to have work done to raise the roof and contractors never mentioned it as they went about renovating the home.
“We had the work done professionally, inspected by the city and completed well before I decided to get pregnant,” Shana Boscak said. “We designed a showcase kitchen, rebuilt a massive staircase and put in the master bath of our dreams. I’m married to a doctor. We love where we live. We own a beautiful home. I didn’t know lead poisoning happened to people like us.”
The testing allowed the Boscaks to address the lead problem in their home and to begin efforts to try and mitigate the damage to Zoltan — an effort Shana Boscak said she has seen some success in.
“I know the number of lead poisoning cases is dropping nationwide,” Boscak said. “I know it. I know the statistics. They don’t comfort me when I look at my beautiful, lead-poisoned boy.”P