Fighting the ravages of lead
Tuesday, October 12, 2004
By Sarah Karp Jessica Chess at work and play: clockwise from top left, Jessica frolics in Lake Michigan; Jessica leads a class discussion on the day's weather with her preschool class at the Howard Area Community Center; Jessica's mother, Raveese, puts her shoes and socks back on even though Jessica doesn't want to leave the beach yet; Jessica reads along with the class; she loves to go to the beach and throw rocks; she talks to her teacher and a classmate, and apologizes, after some horse play ended up in a slightly hurt child.
Raveese Gladney says she had no idea her daughter, Jessica Chess, was lead poisoned when she took her to the doctor to get a physical for preschool. Then 3 years old, Jessica seemed like a normal, lively girl, Gladney says. So she was surprised to learn that Jessica's blood lead level was a high 54.9. While every child's reaction is different, studies have shown that even a slightly elevated blood lead level can cause a drop in a child's IQ. At its highest, lead can cause comas or even death. But more common are learning difficulties. A pamphlet Gladney read when she was pregnant outlined the damage that lead could do, and she says the diagnosis upset her greatly. Jessica was immediately put on medication that removes lead from children's bodies and her lead level has been slowly decreasing. Jessica, at age 5, still has a blood lead level in the 20s. Lead, which melds onto the bones of children, is hard to get out of the body. Gladney has taken Jessica to several doctors to try to assess the damage, but everything so far has turned out normal. Gladney has kept Jessica in a preschool run by the Howard Area Community Center. Experts say that keeping children in a stimulating environment and on a good diet can help lessen the affects of lead poisoning.