Dozens get free test at lead paint forum

Tainted water fountains at schools worry parents

March 23, 2003|By Tanika White | Tanika White,SUN STAFF

Spurred by reports that students in Baltimore City schools may have been drinking lead-tainted water for more than a decade, dozens of concerned people attended a lead poisoning prevention forum yesterday to have their children or themselves tested, and to learn more about the problem.

The daylong forum, organized by the Coalition to End Childhood Lead Poisoning, featured exhibits, workshops, speakers and free testing by the city Health Department.

By midday, nurses had nearly exhausted their supply of 30 testing kits.

"This is good. We reached people," said Ruth Ann Norton, the coalition's director. "We're extremely pleased. ... The coverage of the lead in the water has really brought new people out."

Many came to Baltimore City Community College's Liberty campus with a car full of children -- their own, the neighbors', nieces, nephews, cousins. Even some city school employees came to be tested.

Maurice Goodman said he was "very angry and disappointed" when he learned that some schools were dispensing lead-tainted water in the drinking fountains -- and had been for years.

"They're lead-poisoning our children; it's very simple," said Goodman, as he waited for his two sons, ages 12 and 14, to be tested. "The state and the city are responsible. They're poisoning the children -- mind and body."

When Donier Winstead, 21, heard recent rumblings in his West Baltimore neighborhood that the middle school he attended from 1993 to 1996 was reporting high levels of lead, he quickly recalled the many times he had guzzled from the school's drinking fountains. Alarmed, he called to register for testing.

"I probably did it a couple times a day," Winstead said. "Like after lunch, and probably in between classes, just swinging past a water fountain."

Yesterday, more than two dozen people had a small vial of blood collected to see whether the levels of lead were high enough to be of concern. They'll get results by mail or by phone.

Tamira Hall, 7, had no choice but to be brave through her thumb-prick. Her three older brothers circled around, waiting for her to wince or whimper.

"I don't cry when I get needles," the Callaway Elementary second-grader said defiantly.

Tavon Hall said Tamira, his youngest daughter, always has been strong, but he still worries about the possibility of her being exposed to lead.

"I think they need to be checked out," Hall said of Tamira and his three sons. "They have a lot of the symptoms."

As Tamira waited for her brothers to be tested, she played school on a chalkboard with her neighborhood friend, and in spelling "cat" and "dog," printed her "a" like a lowercase "p," and turned her "d" and "g" backward.

While it hasn't been determined if Tamira has been affected by too much lead, learning disabilities are one possible side effect of lead poisoning. And Tamira's brothers, Hall said, are hyperactive and have had trouble in school, as well.

One of the forum's speakers, Teresa Day, told parents they ought to be worried.

Lead poisoning was diagnosed in Day's daughter when she was 3. Although her elementary school years were a breeze, Maria, now 16, battles alcohol and drug problems. Doctors have made the correlation between Maria's addictions and her early exposure to lead, said Day, of Forest Park.

"I want people to take this issue very seriously and understand that their children's future is at stake," she said.

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