Antoinette Catholdi-Dow, a 30-year-old mother of two, first started noticing little bite marks on the window sills in 2015, when her son was about two and a half years old.
The window sills were the perfect height to help her toddler pull himself up to stand and walk. Eventually, Catholdi-Dow would enter the room and catch her son nibbling along their edges.
By this point, her son had already been diagnosed with both autism and pica, which is an eating disorder that causes a person to crave and eat non-food items.
After a few months of this behavior, her mother-in-law suggested a call to the pediatricians office to check his blood for lead, just to be safe. Catholdi-Dow, of Attleboro, Massachusetts, initially dismissed her concerns, but began doing research on the internet about how lead, a neurotoxin, can cause behavioral and developmental problems even at low levels. She also read that old homes, like the one where they lived, could have lead-based paint that poses a hazard to young children when it starts to deteriorate.
But when she called her pediatricians office with her concerns, she was at first gently rebuffed.
They were worried that insurance wouldnt cover it until his three-year [appointment] , Catholdi-Dow said. But because I had a reason to believe that it could possibly be lead poisoned at the time, they ended up going ahead and doing it for me.
When Catholdi-Dows son had his first blood lead test, the results came back at 24 micrograms per one-tenth litre of blood almost five times higher than the reference point the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) uses to recommend a lead intervention.
More comprehensive tests to confirm lead exposure found that her sons lead levels had actually reached 49 micrograms per one-tenth liter of blood (49 g/dL) almost 10 times higher than the CDCs intervention threshold. He was immediately hospitalized at Boston childrens hospital.
In the meantime, a lead abatement team also visited their home, which had been in her husbands family for three generations. They found lead hotspots on the door frames, window sills, and in her sons bedroom closet.
My husbands family had grown up in the house, so I didnt even think twice about it being safe or not safe, Catholdi-Dow said.
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