Flint became a lead poisoning public health disaster that grabbed international headlines. The reality is that thousands of Americans are regularly exposed to lead in the workplace, in the environment, in older homes and in aging public facilities like schools with old, rusty pipes.
"Obviously Flint Michigan was the big one but there are several school districts in California that have been connected to high levels of lead in school kids connected to the drinking water because of old pipes,” says Dr. Shizad Malik who is an Texas physician and attorney.
Children under the age of six are particularly vulnerable to effects of lead exposure, according to the CDC, because of their small size and young growing brains. Lead poisoning can affect a child’s IQ, academic performance and put them at risk for permanent brain damage.
“Lead poisoning can have a devastating, long-lasting, non-treatable impact on children. So it is something to definitely watch out for,” says Dr. Shezad Malik who leads the Malik Law Firm in Dallas, Texas. “The EPA moved to get rid of lead in gasoline and paint in the 1970s and we expected the amount of lead related injuries to go down but it has actually spiked.”
Over time, lead level builds up in the blood stream. The result can cause fatigue, headaches, nausea, joint pain or severe neurological problems and even death.
A simple blood test can detect lead poisoning. A small blood sample is taken from a finger prick or from a vein.
A level of 5 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood is used to indicate a possibly unsafe level for children and adults. Children whose blood tests at those levels should be tested periodically. A child whose levels become too high, generally 45 micrograms of lead or higher, should be treated.
“It is possible using chelating agents to remove the lead contamination,” says Dr. Malik, “It depends on how severe the neurological damage is. If they have been exposed for a long time, the amount of lead they have absorbed, it is possible that no amount of treatment can repair the damage.”
Homes built prior to 1978 have been identified as a common source of lead contamination for children because of the use of now banned lead based paint. According to the CDC “as many as 24 million housing units in the US have deteriorated lead paint and lead contaminated house dust”. Four million of those homes have children living in them.
A new potential source of lead contamination comes from the proliferation of imported goods from countries with less demanding regulations regarding the use of lead in manufactured products.
Restoration Hardware, a well-known high end furniture store, recently had to suspend sales and issue a recall for its Railroad and Parsons Railroad style tables due a risk of lead exposure.
“The company imported and sold a high type of metal top table with a shiny dull gray finish. The tables were made in India. As it turns out the table tops actually contained certain amounts of lead. And there is now a case in California where kids were playing on the table, eating food on this table," says Malik.
At least two law firms are now investigating complaints from people and families who may have suffered injuries related to lead exposure from the tables.
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“We would look for ways to get compensation for them,” says Dr. Malik. “We would begin investigating the case, trying to identify the source of the exposure and identify a potential defendant. It could be a municipality, or it could be a landlord in the case of aging property where there is lead based paint on the walls. It could be a big manufacturing company, companies that recycle old batteries which have polluted the ground water and released lead into the atmosphere or ground water supply, or into the soil. The cases are all different of course.”