© 2024 St. Louis Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Hundreds Of Children Diagnosed With Lead Poisoning In St. Louis Each Year

Courtesy Lead Safe America
An image from "MisLEAD," a documentary film on lead poisoning in America.

The city of St. Louis has been working to reduce lead poisoning since the health department introduced a lead program in the 1940s. Since that time great strides have been made. But the danger of exposure to lead still exists in the city, and screenings reveal more than a thousand cases of elevated blood lead levels each year.

“We’ve been on a long battle,” Health Services Manager Jeanine Arrighi of the City of St. Louis Department of Health said. According to Arrighi, the city has covered a lot of ground in the last decade, reducing lead poisoning by 80 percent.

Depending on the level of exposure, the consequences of lead poisoning can range from death to mental retardation to learning disabilities. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, even low levels of exposure affect a child’s IQ, and once exposed the damage cannot be reversed.

Because St. Louis has an abundance of older houses, Arrighi expects the problem to persist for at least another 10 years. Buildings constructed prior to the 1978 ban on lead paint could still contain the dangerous paint. And it’s not just poorly maintained homes that are of concern. Minute amounts of lead in dust can be enough to cause lead poisoning.

Lisa Kahrimanovic of St. Louis learned that information the hard way. Despite living in a brick house, her son developed lead poisoning from the paint on their window sills and door frames.

“At 12 months my child was saying all kinds of words, and mimicking and babbling. But at 15 months he actually stopped talking, stopped mimicking. His eye contact was reduced. And I was concerned,” Kahrimanovic said.

At first she thought her son might have autism. But a blood test revealed he had lead poisoning.

If done incorrectly, renovating older houses can also expose the lead. That’s how Tamara Rubin’s children were exposed in 2005. Her experience motivated her to become an advocate against lead poisoning. She founded Lead Safe America and produced the documentary MisLEAD: America’s Secret Epidemic, which is being screened in St. Louis on Friday and Saturday.

“I made the film because I wanted people to see that this is still happening,” Rubin said. “People really don’t get that this is still happening. The paint that was applied in the 1920s, 30s and 40s was applied to last a hundred years, and it has. And in a lot of those homes, it’s deteriorating now for the very first time.”

Through watching her film, Rubin hopes people will be inspired to get their child and their home tested for lead.

Because the effects of lead poisoning cannot be reversed, the city of St. Louis has a focus on prevention. As part of its Heavy Metal Project, the department offers free home inspections to any pregnant woman who lives in the city. The free service is also available to all households with children under the age of six.

At Saturday's screening of MisLEAD, free blood lead level screening and toy testing will be offered. More information about lead poisoning is available by calling the Lead Safe Hotline at (314) 657-1456 or on the Lead Safe St. Louis Website.

Related Events

Preview Screening of "MisLEAD: America's Secret Epidemic"
Friday, March 21, 2014
10:30 a.m.
MX Movies, 618 Washington
(314) 657-1429
Lead Safe St. Louis Website

Preview Screening of "MisLEAD: America's Secret Epidemic"
Saturday, March 22, 2014
11:15 a.m.
Saint Louis University School of Law, 100 North Tucker
(314) 657-1429
Lead Safe St. Louis Website

St. Louis on the Air provides discussion about issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh.

Stay Connected