Two longtime nurses, Lynn Lotas and Debbie Aloshen, with more than 80 years of combined experience – have their attention focused on a very specific and longtime health problem.
That problem is lead poisoning in children – the kind that leaches into the bloodstream of kids from old paint on old houses or from the lead-contaminated soils from long-closed factories – a preventable, man-made chemical imbalance that causes “reductions in IQ, poor educational outcomes, behavioral challenges, attention disorders, and criminal activity,” according to one recent study by the Cleveland Federal Reserve.
“We saw a young boy, age 5, with high lead levels in his blood, and we found out he got expelled from school when we were trying to get him follow-up treatment,” says Lotas, associate dean for the Bolton School of Nursing program at Case Western Reserve University. “He is labeled as a bad kid at age 5. Amazing. And it is likely just because of where he lives.”
It’s been 40 years since putting lead paint on houses was legal, but older cities – particularly in the Midwest and Northeast – are still dealing with the adverse medical and psychological conditions the lead paint exposure causes in young children. Cleveland is one of those cities. From 2016 to 2017, according to the Ohio Department of Health, about 12 percent of Cleveland children who were screened for lead had a level in their blood that required action. The national level is 3 percent.
As the school year starts, the city is testing public schoolchildren for lead paint exposure for the second time. If results from the end of the last school year were any indication, about 10 to 15 percent will likely test positive for lead paint in their bloodstream.
“I don’t know of any other cities in the country testing at schools like this, and it will likely turn out to be a good way to increase the rate at which young children are getting tested,” says Dr. Giridhar Mallya, senior policy officer and health policy expert for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
Data obtained through the school testing program will be shared with the city, county and federal agencies charged with determining the programs and policies needed to treat the children affected.