CLAREMONT — More than 60 pet owners in the Claremont area will have a chance to see if their pets have high lead levels, and if that may be related to lead in their homes. 

When details came to light about a public health crisis in Flint, Michigan, researchers found that the effects of widespread lead contamination were not only confined to humans.

Household pets that spent time chewing furniture, sitting on windowsills or being near any of the other common sources of lead were susceptible to the poisoning. So how do pets get elevated blood lead levels?

“Same way as humans do — in the house,” Stonecliff Animal Clinic Veterinarian Dan Kelly said.

Kelley spent much of Saturday morning at the Claremont Senior Center, taking blood samples from the cats and dogs leaving the Sullivan County Humane Society’s rabies clinic taking place there. 

Over the next few weeks, Kimball Union Academy senior Isabel Perez will spend time in the school’s lab, analyzing the samples for lead levels as part of her senior project under the guidance of science teacher Mike Van Dolah. 

Perez is testing the blood lead levels in nearly 60 Claremont area pets. Upon completion of the project, Perez said, she hopes to have data on the correlation between blood lead levels found in pets and the amount of lead in their homes.

“Isabel will take the data and slice it and dice it to see if there are risk levels associated with the house,” Kelley said.

The work is part of a junior and senior elective Science Research class, Dolah said. Kelly, whose veterinarian clinic is in Lebanon, is mentoring Van Dolah and his students for the year-long class, which will result in published findings from pets in Claremont and also in surrounding areas and from pet owners associated with Kimball Union. 

Young children who ingest even small quantities of lead – the equivalent of only a few grains of sugar – run the risk for lead poisoning. Many children with lead poisoning exhibit irreversible mental and behavioral disabilities. 

Pets make for easy indicators of household lead because they frequently chew objects furniture and groom, ingesting trace amounts of paint as they do so. With 62 percent of New Hampshire’s housing stock built before 1978 when lead paint was banned, the state sees more than 880 cases of lead poisoning each year. 

With Claremont’s housing stock being among the oldest in the state, lead poisoning rates in the area are similar to those seen in Flint, Michigan.

“That’s one of the reasons we focused on here (Claremont) — there’s a huge community awareness of it,” said Kelly. He also added that Mayor Charlene Lovett has been “incredibly helpful” in working with the school research group. 

Pet owners who volunteered for the test received cards with the date of the test and an identification number. 

As soon as all data has been collected, Kelly said that he and Perez will release the data to the public without any identifying information other than the numbers. Participants will be able to match their card number with the results to see how high the blood lead level is in their pets.

The results will be published at within two weeks of the test date, Perez said. 

Owners of pets who return high lead levels are encouraged to test any children in the house for blood lead levels as well.

Follow Timothy LaRoche on Facebook at Eagle Times – Timothy LaRoche, or on Twitter at @TimothyLaRoche.

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