Stay-At-Home Dad: Get what lead out? Screening requirement imperfect
BY HOWARD A. LUDWIG May 17, 2013 8:32AM
Updated: June 20, 2013 6:16AM
The mandatory medical forms for the 2013-14 school year arrived last week.
My 5-year-old son needs physical, dental and vision exams before entering kindergarten. Peter also is required to have a lead test.
The lead test requirement was spelled out in bold print, underlined and highlighted by the school. This often-overlooked exam is part of the school physical.
I once submitted a physical exam form completed by a pediatrician who skipped this line item. My older son, Bubba, was nearly booted from preschool.
School officials were simply doing their job. That didn’t stop me from fuming. First, I was upset that the doctor didn’t complete the form correctly. Then I was angry that I had to find someone to perform a last-minute lead test. Finally, I was ticked about having to get my son tested for a medical condition which he had very little chance of contracting.
Needless to say, I’ve since found a new pediatrician. The boys’ new doctor is a family friend. I told her that I was planning to make an appointment for Peter’s school physical. I also recalled my prior lead-test debacle.
“You know, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a positive one of those tests in my 10 years as a pediatrician,” she said.
The revelation stirred up all sorts of buried rage. This was the fuel I used to delve into Illinois’ lead-testing requirement. I quickly learned it’s an imperfect system.
Children from 6 months to 6 years of age are required by Illinois law to be screened for lead poisoning. In some cases, this screening consists only of a questionnaire. I envision those tests going something like this:
Doctor: “So, I see from your chart that you live in Tinley Park. And your home built was in 1990. Congratulations. You pass the lead screening.”
However, if your child resides in Chicago or within any of 573 ZIP codes statewide considered “high risk,” a blood draw is required.
There are three different ways to test blood for lead. Tests range from a simple finger prick to a laboratory test requiring vials of blood.
The problem is there’s no early system of checks and balances. It’s not until a child enrolls in day care, preschool or kindergarten that proof of these lead screenings is required.
Ideally, children — particularly kids living in homes built before 1978 — would be tested around the age they start crawling and putting things in their mouths.
“The idea is when kids start to be at risk is when they start moving around,” said Anita Weinberg, chair of Lead Safe Illinois. The advocacy group focuses on raising awareness of the dangers of lead poisoning.
Dr. Courtand Lohff agreed. He’s a medical director with the Chicago Department of Public Health. He said day care kids have an advantage in that proof of a lead screening is required earlier for them than it is for children with a stay-at-home parent or nanny who doesn’t enroll.
“It’s better to test children at a younger age, particularly between 1 and 2,” Lohff said.
My oldest son, Bubba, celebrated his first birthday in Chicago’s Pullman community. Our historic row house was built in 1880. I did my best to keep the house clean, but paint chips weren’t uncommon. So we had him tested for lead around 18 months. The test came back negative.
But Peter never lived in that house. Our current home is also in Chicago. It was built in the 1960s. But the windows are new, and many of the rooms have been remodeled. Plus, Petey already had one clean lead test prior to entering preschool in 2011.
Of course, I’ll still have Peter tested this summer. But it’s not because I’m concerned about lead poisoning. I’ll do it because it’s the law, and I don’t want my boy booted from kindergarten.
Howard A. Ludwig is a former SouthtownStar business reporter who traded his reporter’s notepad for a diaper bag, becoming a stay-at-home dad.
He can be reached at email@example.com.