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Lead Testing To Begin In Cleveland Schools

Cleveland has a lead problem.

That’s according to a city school official who is now working to make sure children in the district get tested for lead exposure.

“Lead is one of the most underreported diseases there is,” Debbie Aloshen, director of health and nursing services for the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, said.

Alsohen said while some may disagree, she does classify lead poisoning as a disease, but a difficult one to diagnose because it manifests itself in a variety of ways, causing mental, behavioral and physical problems in children.

Unlike other cities who have struggled with exposure to lead in their populations in the recent past, Aloshen said in Cleveland, the housing stock is the largest source of lead. Most homes were built before the 1970s and 1980s, when lead paint and pipes were outlawed, and abatement hasn’t occurred in a large number of rental properties in the city.

Because of that, she believes young children in Cleveland are likely being exposed to lead at high rates, but Aloshen said there’s no real way to know. There is no legal requirement to test children for lead, except for those who are covered by Medicaid, so Aloshen said it’s not a regular practice.

“We have anecdotal evidence over the last 30 years, that I know of, that we have not been getting these [testing] numbers from facilities,” she said. “We’re not getting them from doctors, we’re not getting them from hospitals, and we’re not getting them from parents. So, we have no idea what lead levels are out there.”

But Aloshen wants to change that, creating a database of the test results of Cleveland children, and a professor at Case Western Reserve University has found a way to do it.

Dr. Lynn Lotas, head of the nursing program, secured a grant for a lead testing program last year. Partnering with CMSD, her students will begin testing children ages 3 to 6 in three district schools this spring, with plans to expand the annual test to every child in the age range within two years.

Like Aloshen, Lotas feels passionately about the benefit it will provide young children, but she has a goal for her students as well, many of whom she said come from small towns and have no understanding of urban life.

“We want them to be able go out into the city and see the people for who they are, and then when they see them in the hospital, they know them, they know where they came from, and they will be more effective nurses,” she said.

Undergraduate nursing students are currently training to administer the tests, which are a finger prick much like a glucose test for diabetes patients.

Young CMSD students whose tests show a potentially heightened level of lead will be assigned a Case Western Reserve case manager-- students from the university’s counseling and social work programs.

Case managers will work with families to obtain additional testing, treatment, and even connect them with community groups that can help pinpoint and mitigate the source of the lead to prevent future exposure.

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