March 31, 2012

New routine

As much as I want to just hide my head in the sand (if it's by my house, it's probably contaminated with lead dust) I can't. This nightmare we've been living since September that keeps getting worse as time drags on isn't something I can wake up from or ignore. So until it is over, here are some of the things that have become part of our routine.

Oh, how I hate to clean. I love a clean house, but I have 5 people that I swear go behind me and undo the cleaning I've done. I'll admit that dusting was the big thing I wouldn't do if I didn't feel like it. I tried to keep clean clothes and dishes and keep things picked up. But with lead paint on the outside of the house, I HAVE to dust. Twice a week, I take a wet cloth and wipe down all the window sills. I wet mop the floor twice a week. Once a week I wipe down the walls around the windows. It probably doesn't sound like much work, but we have 16 large windows. And no carpeting. It takes me awhile and I hate every minute of it.

I've spent a lot of time looking into various aspects of this lead fiasco. I'm in contact with the lead inspector, the health department, I've talked with the State Lead Program contact, the EPA Regional lead contact, the head of Lead Safe State. We've also had multiple contractors out to the house to get estimates...2 of which have declined to do the work for us, if that gives you any indication as to what kind of mess this is :( I've also been looking for different ways to fund this small little project we are required to do. I bought a lottery ticket this week, hoping to cash in that big jackpot, but unfortunately my ticket wasn't the winner I was sure it was. In April, there is a lead meeting and at that point the Lead Safe State head will know if there will be any funding to help with lead abatement. We applied for a home equity loan that really was a waste of time, but maybe, just maybe I'll be surprised. I did find that there is a type of loan called a Title 1 FHA home improvement loan. There is one bank in our area that is approved to handle this type of loan. The only problem is the maximum amount you can get is $25K so we'd still have to get a personal loan for the additional $11K that we need. We could try to refinance our house and depending on the house appraisal amount, request that amount instead of just what we owe and use that to help fund the repairs, although I doubt that the house is worth $36K more than what we owe. Another option is to try to finance through larger siding and window companies. For now, we're waiting to hear from the credit union. Sometime next week we'll know something, but considering there is no equity in the house yet, I'm not hopeful.

Letter Writing
This is something I have been working on. I've sent a few letters of to the health dept and lead heads, but now my new tactic is to write to our congressmen. If I have to, I'll write a letter to the President of the United States. I'm trying to get my thoughts together so I sound like an intelligent, well-informed individual. The last thing I need is to receive yet another copy of Lead in Your Home: A Parent's Reference Guide. I want to make sure these people do understand that I am completely aware of the hazards of lead paint and it's implications for growth and development. I don't need a lecture on it's hazards. What I want to convey to them is that if they are going to require a family to do something that costs this much money, there needs to be something to help with the cost, whether it's a grant, or some type of loan.

OMG, the stress. I've been stressed before, but this is unreal. The lead is there. But the fact that only 1 of the kids had a high level says something. Even with my poor housekeeping skills, I've managed to keep the hazard minimal. With the exception of that paint chip that Caleb ate. The honest truth is this: for us anyway, if I had been a better housekeeper and cleaned up those paint chips, we wouldn't be here. It isn't the lead dust that poisoned Caleb, it was those damn paint chips from the door jambs. On one hand, the lead is still there on the outside of the house so it needs to be taken care of, but on the other, I just don't know how it will get done. When we do figure out how to fund this, we will be out of our house for the duration of the work. Hopefully, it won't take too long, but this won't be a quick 1-2 day job to replace 16 windows, put siding up over our large house, and encapsulate parts of the porch. We are a busy family: Husband works full-time, I work full time, and 3 of our 4 kids are playing summer league baseball...3 different age groups. That's one aspect of this adventure I'm not going to try to fix until we know when the work will be done.

We're trying to have a good attitude. The contractor we like so far explained that there will be yellow caution tape put up around our property, with signage that tells people to stay out of the work area. I feel like we're living in a condemned house. It will look awesome, like the old houses I dream about ours looking like once it's done. We will take pictures of the progress, just so maybe we can look back on this and laugh someday.

March 30, 2012

Lead Nightmare

Back in September, we took Caleb to his well-baby 12 month visit. All was well, and because we live in a house built in the 1880's, we had his lead levels tested. We had the other kids lead levels tested and they were always normal, so after the test was drawn I never gave it a second thought. Until I got a phone call from the office the next day. His lead level was very high, so they wanted to have it re-drawn to make sure. So we did. It was still high and we were very upset and went crazy trying to figure out how it happened. Our house is old but we were told when we bought it that there was no lead paint in use in the house and that it had been repainted years ago. We knew that when the house was repainted, that they hadn't done a great job removing all the old lead paint because there are areas where it is peeling, but Caleb wasn't ever outside. We had the other kids rechecked and they were fine. After looking around the house, we decided that the lead probably came from our front door jambs. When Isaiah gets on the bus at noon, I would leave the big wood door open so I could see Caleb through the glass door as I walk Isaiah to the bus. In between the doors, there were some paint chips from when I forcefully pulled a Christmas tree out the door. We think he picked up a paint chip and put it in his mouth. I then immediately cleaned up the few little paint chips and we painted over the door jambs to prevent any more paint from chipping off.

In the meantime, because Caleb had a high lead level, it had to be reported to the health department. Little did we know how big an ordeal this would become. A nurse from the health department came out, and screened him to make sure he wasn't suffering from any developmental delays. Then she said a lead inspector would be out at some point to help us find the lead, and we would have repeat tests to make sure Caleb's levels were dropping. Thankfully, since September, Caleb's levels are now normal and dropped pretty rapidly. But after a couple weeks, we hadn't heard from the lead inspector. I actually thought they had forgotten about us, which now I wish they would have. But back in February, finally, he called and we set up a time for him at the beginning of March to come out, on a Tuesday. As fate would have it, I end up getting very sick with stomach flu the Sunday night before and was still a little sick on that Tuesday. I figured lets get this over with so I didn't cancel the appointment. I also didn't clean before he came. I had worried that when he came out that he would say you have to put new siding on your house but a coworker that used to work at the health dept for a short time reassured me that wouldn't happen. Wrong. He was at the house for about 3 hours, collected dust samples and in passing conversation, he mentioned that he had a case by the hospital I work at. The family couldn't come up with the large amount of money to have the lead abated so they walked away and let the bank take the house. Seriously?!?! I started to panic. After he was done, he said the inside of the house is fine, but the whole outside is covered in lead. Siding, exterior of windows. At this point, he wasn't telling me something we hadn't already figured out. So I asked what that meant for us.

We would receive a mitigation notice and a timeline. The mitigation notice would tell us what we have to have abated or mitigated. The timeline is 90 days, which can be extended to 150 days. If the work isn't' done in 150 days, then it's handed over to the States Attorney and we could at the longest extend the timeline to 1 year, but that's with court costs and possibly fines. And the way he presented it was if it wasn't done, and we continued to live in the house, we would be charged with child endangerment. WTH? It was all I could do to keep from breaking down until he left. How the heck were we going to come up with $10K (yeah, gross underestimate of the real cost but at that time, that's the number in my head) to reside the house.

Our mitigation notice came and not only do we have to reside the house, we have to replace all original windows, encapsulate areas of our porch and replace an original door going to the cellar. In 90 days. And if we don't want to use a lead abatement specialist, we can apply for a waiver so we can use a contractor that has their EPA certification to deal with lead-based paint. I spent so much time on the phone talking to people about this, if there was any aid, worrying about having to walk away from our home, etc. We also started calling companies/contractors to get estimates. Our first estimate was a major shock: $36,000. Yep. 10K suddenly seemed like no big deal. Because of regulations placed on contractors that work on houses with lead based paint, the clean-up and how they work increases the cost.

We're kind of stuck. We bought this house for the size because we knew we wanted a large family. The market is crap. This house won't sell for what we owe so we would take a huge loss, especially since it is required by law that we give any potential buyers a disclosure, in writing, that there is lead paint. Too bad we weren't given that. So selling isn't an option so we can't just move. We don't want to walk away because it's our home and there aren't any rental houses in our small town. Plus who wants to do that? Our only option is to try and get financing. The main problem with that is how do you come up with that amount of money? There is no equity in the house because we haven't lived here long enough, but we went ahead and applied for a home equity loan. I'm sure it's a waste. Another option is to try and finance through siding & window companies, which will be our next step. After that, I'm not sure. There was a church group who wants to help, but its not something that they can do because we aren't allowed to do it ourselves with that EPA certification. Maybe, maybe there will be grant money available to help but the state is broke and most likely they will deem us unworthy because of our income. In the interim, I have been washing the window sills to contain lead dust, I always mop the floors to that's nothing new, we can't open our windows because there's lead paint on the window jambs. Its a level of stress I never knew existed.

Lead paint is very dangerous, and it's not just the ingestion of paint chips that's the problem, it's the lead dust. I get it, I really do. The lady in charge of Lead-safe State said that we obviously are doing something right because Caleb's levels are normal and the other kids are fine. Our case is most likely ingestion. Anyway, it is a problem and it needs to be taken care of. We don't want anyone to have lead poisoning, but how can they seriously ask a middle-class family to come up with that much money in such a short amount of time? Obviously, if we had the money, we would have done it already. I guess they think it's ok to push a family out of their home, force them to choose to foreclose on their house because they can't afford the work or they decide it isn't worth it, ruin them financially, and then ask them to move to some small apartment or house? Really? Because if no one will finance us for such a large amount, that's what could happen. We could be forced to move out of the small town we love because there are no rental properties available. (I looked). We would have to either foreclose on our home, be ruined financially, and most likely end up in a smaller house than what we are in. And we work full time, pay our bills and until this happened, we are/were financially secure. But we don't have $36K. Is this really the goal? To push families from their homes, to ruin them financially, not to mention the consequences of the stress of something like this, all because of lead based paint? Especially since the kids levels are normal? I know God works in mysterious ways and doesn't give us more than what we can handle, but right now, it's overwhelming and who knows were it will take us.

March 14, 2012


Since Isaiah has been going to early childhood classes, we have seen some great improvements in his speech. It has been a wonderful thing for him. When Caleb was born, he was hardly speaking at all, and what he did say was just jibberish. But now, we can understand what he says, he can write his name, and he really knows most of the basic skills he will need for kindergarten. After this year, he will go to pre-k. One thing that goes along with school is riding the bus. He gets on the bus at noon with only early childhood kids and then rides the bus home with Jacob and Clara. In addition to learning how to write and how to behave on the bus, he is learning other skills. Today he showed me what he learned on the bus yesterday. And he proceded to flip me the bird. Grand. My 4 year old knows how to give the middle finger. I really hope he forgets this little "skill" and doesn't show it off to anyone else. I probably don't want to know what else he has learned on the bus.