Lead may be hidden problem in Carson City

Cathleen Allison/Nevada Appeal Rumors about lead paint concerns started recently when classroom doors at Fritsch Elementary School were painted. School officials acknowledge there are probably underlying layers of lead paint, but say the doors were painted as part of routine maintenance.

Cathleen Allison/Nevada Appeal Rumors about lead paint concerns started recently when classroom doors at Fritsch Elementary School were painted. School officials acknowledge there are probably underlying layers of lead paint, but say the doors were painted as part of routine maintenance.

Virtually every building erected in Carson City before 1978 - when the Lead-Based Paint Poisoning Prevention Act was enacted - contains lead-laden paint.

That means homes, schools, public and commercial buildings.

But the question remains: How many of Carson City's structures still contain lead, and what harm does it really do?

There are no answers now - only a rough idea of what buildings may be afflicted and a hope for future funding and investigation, according to Carson health officials.

"It's a guess at best, but we're starting to get funding and do a little more research," said Dustin Boothe, control program manager for the Carson City Health and Human Services Department. "We currently do not have any testing equipment for lead, but we're working with the Southern Nevada Health District in Clark County to come up with lead surveillance and testing for the whole state."

He said his department recently did a rough count for single-family homes in Carson built before 1978 (presumably using lead paint) to get an idea of what might be out there.

"I pulled up residences built prior to 1978," he said. "There were (more than) 5,200 houses - not schools or apartment complexes - that could have lead-based paint.

"Of course, that study does not take into account remodels or people who've painted their house. Looking at that base number, though, about 43 percent of homes could be afflicted - that's a significant number."

As far as public buildings go, new funding will take on the problem on a case-by-case basis Boothe said.

Lead poisoning in children is defined as blood lead levels greater than 10 micrograms per deciliter.

The department of health encourages all Nevadans to have children tested between the ages of 12 and 24 months, or if the child is between 3 to 6 years old and has never been tested for lead.

"(Southern Nevada) has had the funding for this program for at least one year," Carson Health and Human Services spokesman Boothe said. "The goal is to make it a statewide program."

One of the program's first actions here will be to purchase equipment for lead testing and abatement, Boothe said.

"For testing, there's basically an X-ray gun that you point at the wall or an object that may have lead-based paint, it gives you a reading," he said. "Right now we don't have anything like that - so there's a lot of guesswork."

Of course, the easiest way to eliminate the guesswork, and the threat of lead paint - is to simply paint over any questionable surface with latex-based paint.

"Painting over it is definitely one method to abate the situation," said Mike Mitchell, director of operations for the Carson City School District. "If you try to remove it, you create dust in the air, which can be harder to mitigate."

Mitchell is right, according to the CDC.

However, Nevada is one of only 12 states that does not operate its own authorized lead-training program for housing and child-occupied facilities. For these states, the Environmental Protection Agency has a lead-abatement program (see sidebar on page A1 ).

Recently, doors at Fritsch Elementary were freshly painted.

Though school officials noted the doors were given a fresh coat primarily because of the unappealing yellow color they were given last time, district operations director Mitchell noted it doesn't hurt to be "safe when thinking about lead paint."

"I think those doors were painted about three years ago, so if there was a problem with (lead) it seemingly has already been taken care of," Mitchell said. "It doesn't hurt to exercise caution."

The Consumer Product Safety Commission also recently reported there is no completely safe method for do-it-yourself lead paint removal. "Lead-based paint should be removed only by professionals, trained in hazardous material removal, who follow detailed procedures to control and contain lead dust," according to its Web site.

Health and Human Services spokesman Boothe said if money should come through after the first of the year for lead paint mitigation, more research will be done at area schools and public buildings and more students showing signs of lead poisoning (see sidebar) can be tested.

Currently, it's up to the parent or guardian to have a child tested.

"Hopefully through the program in Southern Nevada, there'll be money available here," Boothe said.

• Contact reporter Andrew Pridgen at apridgen@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1219.

Lead-Based Paint

Lead-Based Paint is a term used by Housing and Urban Development and the EPA's Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) program. It defines paint with lead levels equal to or exceeding 1 milligram per square centimeter or .5 percent by weight.

The EPA's official policy on the identification of residential lead-based hazards in paint, dust and soil is used by the State of Nevada, which does not have its own standards.

Lead is considered a hazard if there are greater than:

• 40 micrograms of lead in dust per square foot on floors

• 250 micrograms of lead in dust per square foot on interior window sills

• 400 parts per million (ppm) of lead in bare soil in children's play areas

• 1,200 ppm average for bare soil in the rest of the yard

- Source: EPA

Lead poisoning occurs only when too much lead accumulates in the body. Generally, lead poisoning occurs slowly, resulting from the gradual accumulation of lead in bone and tissue after repeated exposure. However, it is important to note that young children absorb 50 percent of a lead ingestion while adults absorb only 10 percent.

Signs and symptoms in children:

• Irritability

• Loss of appetite

• Weight loss

• Sluggishness

• Abdominal pain

• Vomiting

• Constipation

• Unusual paleness (pallor) from anemia

• Learning difficulties

Signs and symptoms in adults:

• Pain, numbness or tingling of the extremities

• Muscular weakness

• Headache

• Abdominal pain

• Memory loss

• Mood disorders

• Reduced sperm count, abnormal sperm

- Source: California Poison Control System; MayoClinic.com


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