AUSTIN — After discovering that the drinking water for hundreds of disabled Texans living in state-funded homes contained toxic amounts of lead, state officials waited a month to test the residents for lead poisoning, which may have skewed results.
(Article by Brittney Martin)
The amount of lead that can be detected in a person’s blood typically drops by half after 15-30 days. Residents at the state homes have been drinking bottled water since early May, which means the amount of lead that would show up in their blood a month later could be as much as 75 percent less than when the state first identified the problem.
A blood lead level of five or more micrograms per deciliter is considered elevated by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. Of the 548 residents tested for lead exposure, 96 percent fell below two micrograms per deciliter. But 14 residents tested between two and four micrograms per deciliter, and seven tested between five and 10 micrograms per deciliter–which is considered elevated.
If a person’s blood lead level was five micrograms per deciliter when the facility switched to bottled water, a month later it could be as low as 1.25 micrograms per deciliter, according to Marc Edwards, a civil and environmental engineering professor at Virginia Tech who led a team of researchers who studied the water in Flint, Mich.
Edwards said delaying blood tests for a month or more after exposure is not uncommon.
“The general idea of measuring everyone’s blood from a month to a year after the harmful exposure has occurred is unfortunately a fairly standard practice employed by government agencies to downplay lead exposures occurring in public places,” Edwards said. “Claiming or implying that good blood lead results a month after the last exposure could have occurred, means that no one was hurt…that is just false.”
A spokeswoman for the Department of Aging and Disability Services, which operates the state homes, said officials are “confident that the results of the blood tests are accurate.”
In May, The Dallas Morning News reported that the water at State Supported Living Centers in Brenham, El Paso and San Angelo contained high levels of lead. The Department of Aging and Disability Services received the results of the first round of water tests from the Brenham and El Paso facilities at the end of April.
The department started providing residents with bottled water to drink and use to cook and brush their teeth a week later.
The two centers began testing residents’ blood a month after switching to bottled water. The process took another two weeks.
San Angelo waited two months after the first round of water tests to switch to bottled water at the facility. The center received the results on March 14 and began providing residents with bottled water on May 10. Three weeks later, San Angelo started testing the residents’ blood and completed the tests two weeks later.
On June 30, Scott Schalchlin, the assistant commissioner for State Supported Living Centers, sent a letter to residents’ families and friends about the blood tests. At the time, he said the state had received about 98 percent of the results.
“I am pleased to report that all of the results are significantly below the level that would warrant any clinical intervention, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” Schalchlin said. ” Our SSLC medical staff continues to report that no residents have shown any clinical symptoms of lead exposure.”
Cliff Jones, who’s son lives at the Brenham facility, said he was told his son would be tested, but he hasn’t received specific test results — only Schalchlin’s letter.
“It does seem that I am not being dealt with in a completely straightforward manner,” Jones said. “I am very concerned about what appears to me to be slow-walking on this issue.”
Department spokeswoman Cecilia Cavuto said any legal guardian can request a resident’s blood tests.
Exposure to high lead levels for an extended period of time can lead to brain damage, kidney and nervous system failure and even death. But the National Toxicology Program within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that even blood lead levels less than five and 10 micrograms per deciliter “are associated with adverse health effects in children and adults.” Residents at the three facilities range in age from 10 to 89.
In children, blood lead levels of less than five micrograms per deciliter can stunt academic performance and lead to attention and behavioral problems. The same exposure in adults can cause shaking and decreased renal function, which can lead to kidney failure.
Blood lead levels less than 10 micrograms per deciliter can decrease children’s hearing and delay puberty. In adults, the same amount can lead to increased blood pressure.
The Texas Department of State Health Services doesn’t require any action to be taken in response to elevated blood lead levels, but they recommend that people consider medical intervention to reduce the amount of lead in their blood if it contains 45 micrograms per deciliter of lead.
They also recommend retesting for anyone with blood lead levels over five micrograms per deciliter.
Cavuto said residents testing above four micrograms per deciliter will be tested again in three months.
Read more at: dallasnews.com