LEAD – Case study in Cleveland and Cuyahoga County

What should I know about lead?

Resources for helping your child

Many children in Cleveland are exposed to lead paint or dust in their homes or yards. No level of lead is safe; it can damage a child’s brain and cause learning or behavioral problems. The best thing is to prevent little kids from getting exposed. Here are things you can do to advocate for your child.

If you suspect there’s lead in your home:

  • Cleveland residents can call the city health department’s lead poisoning program, 216-263-5323.
  • Cuyahoga County residents outside of Cleveland can call the Cuyahoga County Board of Health, 216-201-2000.
  • Check Cleveland’s registry at tinyurl.com/LeadHazardRegistry (login required) to see if your home has a documented history of lead hazards.

If your child has lead poisoning:

  • City or county health officials must investigate to find out where your child was exposed if the blood test is 10 micrograms per deciliter or more.
  • Continue to monitor the poisoning with blood tests.
  • Take these simple steps immediately to make the environment safer: Wipe feet before entering the house and remove shoes at the door; cover bare dirt with 6 inches of mulch; use duct tape or contact paper to cover peeling paint; make sure your child is getting enough iron and calcium; wash your child’s hands frequently with soap and water, not sanitizer because it doesn’t remove lead.
  • If your home has lead pipes, run the water for at least 45 seconds before drinking and don’t use it to make formula bottles. Go to tinyurl.com/CleLeadWaterPipesAwareness.

If there’s a lead hazard in your home:

  • If you are a renter, your landlord is responsible for fixing lead hazards. If they aren’t fixed, call Cleveland Housing Court, 216-664-4295.
  • If your landlord raises rent or tries to evict you after your child is poisoned, call Legal Aid Society of Cleveland, 216-687-1900.
  • Grants and loans for qualified homeowners exist to fix lead hazards. In Cleveland, call 216-664-2045; in Cuyahoga County outside Cleveland, 216-201-2000, ext. 1527.
  • If you are low-income and are pregnant or have children and need emergency help to move, call Cuyahoga County Job and Family Services, 216-416-4440, to see if you qualify.

If your child has tested high for lead and is struggling with learning or behavioral issues:

  • If your child is 3 years old or younger, has a lead level above 5 micrograms per deciliter and is having trouble learning or has behavior problems, you may be able to access early intervention services, such as Head Start or Cuyahoga County’s Help Me Grow program. You can learn more at ohioearlyintervention.org or 1-800-755-4769 (toll free).
  • If your child is in preschool in Cuyahoga County, there’s free technical assistance and training from Starting Point. Call 216-575-0061 or toll free at 1-800-880-0971.
  • If your child is school-age, you have the right to ask the school to test your child for learning problems. Write out and date the request and keep a copy of it. Here’s a sample letter: tinyurl.com/TestingRequestLetter.
  • If you think your children need services, or if they are not getting the help they need or if you disagree with the school’s special education plan, the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland can assist in an appeal. Call 1-888-817-3777 toll free.
  • For additional information on special education, call the Ohio Department of Education, 614-466-2650 or toll free at 1-877-644-6338.

What are the main sources of lead that cause poisoning?

Paint, soil, and dust

  • If you live in a home built before 1978, lead hazards may be present in your home
  • Lead paint was banned from household paint in the United States in 1978
  • Lead was no longer used in gasoline after 1980, but may still be present in exposed soil
  • Paint chips may be ground into dust when they fall on the floor and are tracked and blown in and around the home

Why is lead dangerous to children and adults?

  • Lead is a brain poison
  • If it gets into a child’s body, it can make them very sick
  • It can make it difficult for a child to learn and grow
  • Lead is harmful to adults and can pose many dangers, like hypertension

How do people get lead poisoning?

  • Most children are poisoned by swallowing lead dust from hand to mouth activity
  • It only takes a small amount of dust to poison a child
  • Lead may be present in household dust
  • Lead is often present in exposed soil that was contaminated by leaded gasoline, peeling paint, or air pollution
  • Lead dust can be found on surfaces subject to wear and tear like doors, windows, and floors
  • People track lead dust into their homes by not removing shoes at the door
  • Adults that work around lead may be exposed or bring lead home if they do not have protective clothing
  • Pets can also track in lead dust and be poisoned
  • If a child’s blood lead level is about 5 micrograms per deciliter they are considered poisoned
  • People who are pregnant and exposed to lead can transfer it to their fetus

How do I work safely around lead?

Lead-safe work practices are used to protect your family when you or a contractor disturbs old paint. Read Steps to Lead Safe Renovation for safety on do-it-yourself projects

  • Remodeling or projects that disturb lead paint can create dust and endanger you and your family
  • It is against the law in Cleveland to dry scrape, heat gun above 1100°F, or sand blast paint
  • Always wet any surface being worked on that may contain lead, and always clean up afterwards
  • Exposed soil should be tested before working with it, as it may be contaminated with lead
  • If no test is done, assume it may be contaminated and use lead-safe work practices such as using raised beds, don’t plant food next to chipping and peeling paint, wash your vegetables, do not let small children play in the dirt, and do not track soil into the home
  • For more info on lead in soil and gardening, visit: https://ohioline.osu.edu/factsheet/hyg-1132
  • Cover exposed soil with mulch, gravel, seed to grow grass, plant thorny bushes to limit access to painted surfaces.
  • If hiring a contractor, make sure they are currently EPA certified in Renovation, Repair, and Painting (RRP).
  • You can search for certified Lead Risk Assessors and contractors here
  • Read Renovate Right to learn more about hiring contractors

What should I know about asthma?

  • Asthma is a long-term and potentially life-threatening medical condition
  • Asthma can cause inflammation in your lungs and make it difficult to breathe
  • Symptoms of an asthma attack can include wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath, and chest tightness
  • There is no cure for asthma, but medications and behaviors can help control it
  • Many different things can trigger asthma attacks
  • Different people may have different asthma triggers

What are some common asthma triggers?

  • Dust and dust mites
  • Mold
  • Cockroaches
  • Pet dander (skin flakes)
  • Rodents
  • Tobacco smoke
  • Air fresheners
  • Strong chemical odors
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