It wasn’t until Bridgeport lead inspector Charles Tate stepped outside the house on Wood Avenue that he saw, immediately, where 2-year-old Rocio Valladares was being poisoned. The paint around a window at the back of the house was deteriorating. Beneath the window was Rocio’s favorite play area, a sloping basement door that was the perfect ramp for an energetic toddler. Next to the basement door was a patch of dirt where she loved to scratch with sticks. White chips of paint were visible in the dirt.
Nearly 1,500 children under the age of 6 tested positive for lead poisoning in 2014, according to the latest numbers from the state Department of Public Health. Overall, the number of lead-poisoned children in Connecticut was about the same in 2014 as in 2013, with the total rising by 9 children. In 2014, 2,284 children under 6 were diagnosed as lead-poisoned, compared with 2,275 in 2013. The numbers are roughly equal because some children diagnosed with lead poisoning are cleared after being treated for it, they turn 6 and so are no longer followed by the state, or their families leave the state. But at a combined hearing of the legislature’s Committees on Children and Public Health on Monday, a state Department of Public Health official conceded that those numbers and other state lead statistics may be misleading because of the deficiencies of lead screening in Connecticut.
Nearly 60,000 Connecticut children under age 6 were reported with lead exposure in 2013, and an additional 2,275 children had high enough levels of the toxin in their blood to be considered poisoned. While those numbers, the latest available from the state Department of Public Health, may seem high, health experts say they actually must be higher because of significant gaps in state-mandated testing. Even though Connecticut has some of the strictest lead-screening laws in the country – requiring every child to be tested twice, before age 3 – DPH figures show that only half were screened twice, as mandated. Unlike in Flint, Mich., whose residents were poisoned when a corrosive water source was directed through aging lead-lined pipes, the main culprit in Connecticut is lead paint. Though banned in 1978, lead-based paint is present in countless older apartment buildings and homes, especially in urban centers, such as Hartford, New Haven and Bridgeport.