In-depth: Lead poisoning could cause severe health problems to children

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OAKLAND (KRON) — All this week, KRON4 is taking an in-depth look at the dangers of lead contamination.

On Tuesday, KRON4 introduces you to an East Bay family that has been dealing with the problem first hand. Although lead was banned from household use decades ago, it could linger on in many older homes in the form of paint.

If children ingest that paint, they can suffer severe health problems.

Many families, like the one you are about to meet, have no idea there is even a danger.

Ismael Ackbari, his wife, and two young children, came to the United States from Afghanistan about a year ago.

The family now shares a very modest one-bedroom apartment in Oakland’s Fruitvale neighborhood.

“It’s an older house,” Ackbari said. “It’s like 90 years old house…that we’re living here and also it’s so expensive…one bedroom….I’m paying $1,300 per month.”

When they arrived in the Bay Area, the kids were tested for lead exposure and the results came back negative. But a few months later, 2-year-old Mohammad was tested again and his blood lead level had shot up to 71 micrograms per deciliter.

Anything over 5 micrograms is considered a problem. He was immediately hospitalized.

Ismael had never even heard of lead poisoning.

“I hadn’t heard anything about lead in my country,” Ackbari said. “So, when I come here, I understand what is lead.”

Lead poisoning is a serious health hazard that can have lasting impacts on a child’s ability to learn. Unfortunately, kids who live in older homes in low-income areas have some of the highest rates of exposure.

Another problem is that kids that have been poisoned, like Mohammad, often won’t show any sort of symptoms.

“Unfortunately, most children we see don’t have symptoms until their blood level is quite high,” Alameda County Public Health Nurse Diep Tran said. “And I would say the symptoms are vague. The only way you can detect lead poisoning of an early stage, because you don’t want to wait until they have seizures, is through a blood test.”

After Mohammad was admitted to the hospital, a team from the Alameda Healthy Homes Department examined the Ackbari’s apartment.

After checking the paint, dust, and water inside the home, it still was unclear how the young boy ingested the lead. None of his toys or anything else inside the apartment seemed to be the source.

Then, Ismael remembered that his son liked to play outside near a wall with peeling paint.

“The older the home, the more likely it is to have lead-based paint,” Alameda County Housing Services Director Dale Hagen said.

Hagen says lead paint is a big problem across the country.

“Lead that’s in paint or the led that used to be in paint are the biggest sources that we find in the environment,” Hagen said.

Mohammad spent about two weeks in the hospital receiving treatment. Months later, his blood lead level is dropping but is still too high.

Fortunately, he’s not showing any signs of long-term problems.

The Ackbari’s and the county have been working with the property owner to remove the lead outside the apartment.

The owner did put up some plastic to catch falling paint, but Ismael says the family plans to move anyway.

It is a daunting prospect in the Bay Area’s red-hot rental market.

“I’m sure my son is going to play outside again, and he will be faced with the same problems again in the future, so that’s why I’m just looking for a new house…,” Ackbari said.

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