NewsCenter 16 Special Report: Lead Poisoning - Part 2

An Elkhart family is stuck in their home.

They know their home is dangerous for their children, but they can't move, because they can't sell it.

That's because they discovered the home is full of lead: a dangerous neurotoxin that can cause brain damage in children.

When a blood test determined Anthony and Carolyn Hunt's son was poisoned by lead, the Elkhart couple quickly became lead experts.

But what they learned was frightening: lead can cause irreversible brain damage in children.

Children often show no symptoms. It may show up years later as attention disorders or behavior problems in school. The only way to tell if a child is poisoned is to get them tested.

“The damage is done. They've already been poisoned,” says Anthony. “So now it’s a function of the things you have to do to make sure it doesn't get any worse."

“There's really nothing that balances out having your child be poisoned and you feeling powerless because you bought a house, you can't sell it, it’s known, it’s registered as a lead hazard,” says Carolyn. “And you're stuck.”

Stuck, but determined to make sure the house is safe to live in.

With a special device that detects lead beyond the surface, the Elkhart County Health Department helped the Hunts determine where the lead hazards are located.

“All of that is lead paint, all of the trim around all the windows, that’s going to have to be redone. All the trim around the doorways,” says Anthony.

If the paint is in good condition, not peeling or flaking, then it's not a great risk. But it's worth knowing where it's at.

And in the Hunt home, they found it on the trim, baseboards, windowsills and porch; even the soil outside.

Beautiful flowers line the outside of the Hunt home in Elkhart. At one time, they had a hard time getting anything to grow because the soil was so toxic. So, they had that soil removed and clean soil brought in. Another costly example of what the Hunts have done to try to stay safe.

So far, the repairs have cost the Hunts close to $15,000. But they've only scratched the surface; there are 30 windows in the home that still need to be replaced.

“You can't open a window because lead paint on lead paint is the fastest way to create lead dust,” says Anthony. “Then it’s on the floor or it’s in the windowsill. You open it up, a gust of wind, whew -- now it’s in the house.

The good news is that the Hunts qualify for a lead abatement program offered by the Elkhart County Health Department. The Lead Hazard Control Program received $3 million of stimulus money to help rehab homes to make them free of lead.

Program director Carrie Russell Brunson hopes to fix 200 homes in Elkhart County, but she needs families to step forward for testing.

“The first step is to have their home tested for lead, to see if it has lead hazards,” says Carrie. “And then we enroll them into the program if they are eligible, and we offer to pay 75 percent of the cost of that remediation.”

Lead hazard specialists will train companies to be lead abatement professionals, so that they will safely remove lead as they work in the homes.

“With the grant money, we want people to do it the right way -- get things replaced and taken care of,” says Dawn Dunker of the Elkhart County Health Department. “I don't know where you can get a better deal -- having 75 percent of your project paid for.”

The program will help the Hunts sleep better at night.

“Some of the costs coming back on complete rehabilitation of the home were going to be greater almost than the cost of the home itself,” says Anthony.

There's so many ways that you can get little tiny bits of lead ingested, and it's cumulative,” says Carolyn. “We know it can add up over time.”

Now, there's help for the added cost of having peace of mind. The Elkhart County Health Department offers free lead testing for children every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

If you have any questions about lead -- no matter where you live -- call your county health department.

There's also a special lead test clinic that will be available on Saturday, October 24th. Call the Elkhart County Health Department for more information at (574) 875-3391.

Free tests are offered daily at the St. Joseph County Health Department. Their number is (574) 245-6656.

Click on the related link below to read part 1 of this special report.

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