But for a bit, we weren’t so sure; it started at her 9 month appointment, after her regular checkup it was time for shots and a blood test for lead.
I thought nothing of the test other than how the poor thing was not going to appreciate being stuck in the finger for it. The nurse came in, Rory did great, the nurse left and we were getting her ready to go when she came back in. “We’re a little concerned,” she told me. “Her lead test came back 6 and the max we want to see is 5.” Of course, new mom me went to the ‘OMG, Sh!t’ place. “It’s not a terribly accurate test, so we’re going to run it again to see,” and the nurse stuck my baby and collected her blood again.
I sat there, trying to cheer up the bot, trying not to panic, trying to think through what might have caused it. When you rent an old apartment in the city and have a ton of toys and books that were gifted from others, bought new or used, or were remnants of your own childhood it’s hard to know where to start when trying to find the cause. The reality is, with the cheap crap that comes from China, anything you own *could* have lead in it. Remember there was a recall on Mattel toys just last year. We know that lead wasn’t really thought of as a danger until we were middle-aged kids, 6-10 or so. The bot used to eat paper like it grew on trees (get it, haha) and we have a stack of our old children’s books from the 70’s before this knowledge, what if it was our books, what if it’s some of her new ones? What if it is our apartment? The place we’ve called home for almost 6 years. We are renting now but we were planning on starting to look to buy next fall. That means one more year in our home, with her cute kitty room and our beautiful bay windows. That means one more year in a home with lead issues.
It’s amazing how quickly the panic train can role out of the station.
When the nurse came back, the news wasn’t what we wanted to hear. Her level recorded even higher than before, so they had to do a true blood draw (poor thing!) and sent that out for results. This, I was informed, meant we would have to take her to the lead clinic, the health department would be involved and action would have to be taken. It probably goes without saying we went home and started researching lead poisoning like mad while waiting to hear from her doctor.
The first thing we did when we got home from that appointment was a home lead test on the main things we thought could be the cause. Home tests are not terribly accurate, but they’re an excellent way to narrow down possibilities. While it can’t tell you how high or low the lead level is, it can tell you if there is lead present, and that’s a good start until an official inspector comes.
Lead poisoning is a cause for concern. In Chicago a level over 5 is considered high, 10 is elevated (or lead poisoning depending on who you talk to), 20 is considered lead poisoning and signs of development and nervous system problems can begin to appear. (Nationally 5 doesn’t trigger concern, yet). Children 6 months to 6 years tend to be the most susceptible due to their hand-to-mouth activity.
The number one cause of lead poisoning is old windows, which, it turns out, is exactly what caused the Bot’s case. All summer long we had our bay windows open, which happen to be her play area. The side facing outward has very high levels of lead, so the wind would blow in, particles would hit the ground, the Bot crawled around on it, put her hands in her mouth and sure enough, lead poisoning. Interestingly enough
Turns out, she did have elevated lead levels, a lead level of 10, and action does have to happen. We’ve now been to the children’s lead clinic; they examined her, gave us a stack of papers on prevention and signs of trouble, they talked with us about cause, effect and provided some great information that put it all into perspective. We’ve had the health department out to do an official test, it is our windows and our landlord is ready to take action (replacing the windows is the BEST solution in cases like this) as soon as the city says to.
I’m happy to say that within a month of discovering the cause (using our home test) and simply closing our windows (for now – an easy yet temporary solution since it’s winter) the Bot’s lead level is now down to 4. But we’re taking other measures to further help reduce the lead in our home and you can to.
Even if you don’t have lead in your windows or paint, there are other causes, lead never goes away, it’s in our soil, it can be tracked into the house. Luckily simply removing your shoes when you first come in the house keeps lead from being tracked around thus is a big risk reducer. I’m not a neat-freak but I have to say, since doing this, I really appreciate having less ick on the floor in general, lead or no! If you live in a house older than 1978 or you don’t know much about the history of your place, it’s worth it to buy a home lead kit, test the windows and molding, and anything else that you’re concerned about then take action if needed.
The most important thing to do though, is to have your child tested twice a year. It’s non-invasive and doesn’t hurt (beyond the pricking of a finger). But lead levels can change quickly depending on environment. So bi-annual testing helps to truly discover if there’s a need for concern. (Think about any science class, you always have to repeat the experiment to see if the results change.) If Lorelei had been tested in June, we may not have seen a level high enough to be a concern. Had she initially been tested in December we definitely wouldn’t have. I’d even dare suggest you schedule one of those tests in the fall since it’s just after lots of exposure to the elements.
I’m not telling you all of this to panic you, there’s no need to panic. If you catch it early enough your child will be fine. Just be smart and informed. Here’s a little perspective for you – when we were children (70’s-80’s), kids had an average lead level of 15. By this I figure the only thing to really panic over is the realization that our kids are going to be way smarter than we are… all because of our lead exposure (I coulda been a contender!) and hopefully their lack of it.