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.


Jessica said...

Omg....I'm soooo sorry this is happening to you and your family!!!!

Enjoy Birth said...

I am so sorry, that is really an awful situation!

Mary said...

So sorry this is happening to you. If you haven't done this already, please try contacting your elected officials. There's often things they can do to intervene, especially right now when foreclosure is a hot issue. My prayers are with your family.

May said...

Send this post to your local newspaper and see if they'll publish parts of it as an op/Ed. Publicity is what you need here.

Nurse Lochia said...

I'm currently in the process of doing just that, writing to elected officials. Unfortunately, this happens on a regular basis from what I've been able to uncover about it. So I know we aren't the only ones this has happened to, but it certainly feels like it sometimes.

Beth said...

oh my gosh...indeed, what a nightmare!

I read another blog of a woman who also had a lead fiasco in her home. Maybe she has some tips?

Praying for your family!

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Anonymous said...

Unbelievable. It's bureaucratic debacles like this that may lead to parents declining lead testing for their kids.

The intention is noble but the cost of abatement is outrageous when you consider that the only difference between regular and EPA certified painters is an 8-hour course. Seriously, the only thing they really do differently is vacuum up the chips and dust afterwards. The other "lead safe" (similar to asbestos abatement) practices they're taught are rather standard things like: contain the work area; keep people and stuff away; close windows, doors and ventilation; wet work areas to keep dust down and wear protective gear. Procedures most painters follow anyway. That's it - and for this these contractors get to charge you an arm and a leg. Ridiculous!

Have you had the kids' toys tested also?

LP said...

Have you thought about talking to the realtor who helped you buy the house, or perhaps a real estate lawyer? If the prior owners were supposed to inform you of the lead situation but didn't, in violation of the law, I'm wondering if you could pursue legal action against the former owners.

Ormond Otvos said...

Why would you buy a house that old without having it tested for lead and asbestos? If they exist, the sale price would be considerably lower.

Lead and asbestos have been held up as dangers for decades. We have a responsibility to inform ourselves about big moves like buying century+ old buildings.

They're rarely a buy.