By Charlene Lovett
When Gov. Chris Sununu signed Senate Bill 247 into law in February 2018, the state enacted several provisions to proactively address childhood lead poisoning. Screening one and two-year old children for lead poisoning became mandatory. The state threshold for lead poisoning was incrementally aligned with the Center for Disease Control’s threshold of 5 micrograms per deciliter (mg/dl). A fund to provide loans to eligible property owners for the remediation of lead in homes was created. The law transformed New Hampshire’s position on the issue, but its impact can best be understood through the stories of the families in our communities.
Ashlee and Nick are the parents of two young boys, Ace and Miles, who are 3 ½ and 1 ½ years old, respectively. They live in Claremont in a quiet neighborhood in a house built in 1914. In fact, they purchased the house in which Nick lived during his teenage years.
When his parents brought him in for his one-year-old check-up, Miles was screened for childhood lead poisoning. He had an elevated blood lead level (EBLL) of 17 mg/dl. Because of the elevated results, his parents also had Ace screened and he tested 15 mg/dl. Both children were significantly above the New Hampshire threshold which was 7.5 mg/dl at the time the boys were screened. It will drop to 5 mg/dl on July 1 of this year.
Not long after the Public Health Division of the Department for Health and Human Services (DHHS) received the elevated screening results, the division reached out to the parents with recommendations on how to protect their children from continued exposure to lead. Since the house was built prior to 1978 when lead-based paint was banned in the U.S., it stood to reason that their home was the source of the lead poisoning.
The Public Health Division recommended covering friction areas such as windows. Because of how lead is absorbed in the body, the department also suggested having the children consume a diet higher in iron, calcium and vitamin C. Ashlee and Nick followed these recommendations and, in February of this year, Ace and Miles’ EBLL dropped to 7 mg/dl and 9 mg/dl, respectively.
However, the parents’ ultimate goal was to remove the sources of the lead poisoning from their home, but they needed help in securing the funds. Ashlee contacted Kate Kirkwood, manager for the Sullivan County Lead Hazard Control and Healthy Homes program which is funded by the $1.7M HUD Lead Hazard Mitigation Grant awarded to the county in October 2020. Kirkwood helped Ashlee and Nick with the application process and they were approved. At the same time, they also applied for and were approved to receive a 0% interest loan from the New Hampshire Lead Paint Hazard Remediation Fund Program.
With the help of these funds, Ashlee and Nick now have the financial resources to make their house safe for their children. Lead abatement contractors will soon begin replacing some of the plaster walls, painted with lead-based paint, with sheet rock. They will replace all old windows, also painted with lead-based paint, with vinyl windows. Lead-painted clapboards will be covered with vinyl siding and other sources of lead removed or encapsulated.
Had New Hampshire not taken the action it did in 2018, had Sullivan County not been awarded federal funds, had the parents not acted swiftly to protect their children, the story would be much different. Today, we have the resources to prevent childhood lead poisoning. In my article next week, I will outline eligibility criteria and the application process for accessing federal and state funds to help protect your children from lead poisoning.
In the meantime, if you are a resident of Sullivan County and would like to know more about the Lead Hazard Control and Healthy Homes program, please go to https://bit.ly/3dTfeD1. If you would like to speak with the program manager, please contact Kate Kirkwood at (603) 781-4304 or email her at email@example.com.
This is part one of a two-part series.
Charlene Lovett is the mayor of Claremont and a 22-year Army veteran. She welcomes your feedback. Please email questions, comments or concerns to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.