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The First Tragedy In Freddie Gray's Life

Freddie Gray's death while in the custody of Baltimore City Police brought into sharp focus the national scrutiny and debate over excessive force used by police when making arrests. But Freddie Gray's death contains another story worthy of the nation's scrutiny, that of the effects of lead poisoning on the country's mostly poor, urban children.

Gray lived in a section of Baltimore where the homes are old, and the paint was peeling and chipped. Because lead was not removed from paint until 1978, paint in older homes often contains lead. Children such as Freddie come into contact with the lead by touching the paint chips--sometimes even eating them--and putting their hands in their mouths, or by breathing in paint dust. By the time Gray was twenty-two months old, he had 37 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood. At that time, the lead safety level was 20 micrograms per deciliter of blood; anything over that was considered lead poisoning. However, as researchers began to understand the devastating consequences of lead on the body--especially developing, little bodies--the safety level continued to be lowered, until the present level of just 5 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood.

Gray and his siblings were diagnosed with ADHD in grade school. Gray never graduated from high school, and had more than a dozen arrests involving drugs. He served two years in prison. A lawsuit filed in 2008 for lead poisoning against the property owner of the home where Gray lived shows that an undisclosed settlement was reached.


As mentioned above, scientists know much more today about the harmful effects of lead in a child's body. Lead poisoning causes kidney and brain damage, learning disabilities, hearing loss, speech delays, attention disorders such as ADHD and ADD, and aggressive and/or violent behavior. Children with lead poisoning are seven times more likely to drop out of school and six times more likely to be involved with the criminal justice system. Gray's life illustrates the trajectory a young life damaged by lead poisoning takes all too well.


GHHLPPP has had a surveillance system in place to test for blood levels since 1992. Through blood screening, the system identifies high-risk areas for lead poisoning and tracks patterns over time. Even though lead was removed from paint in 1978 and from gasoline in 1986, lead poisoning continues to be a threat. It affects half a million children in the U.S., and over 5,000 children in Georgia.

Because the effects of lead poisoning are irreparable, the key to avoiding its devastating consequences is prevention. First and foremost, a child's blood must be tested for lead levels. Any level over 5 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood is too high. Second, test homes built before 1978 for lead-based paint, and make sure that children do not have access to peeling paint or chewable surfaces with lead-based paint. Use lead-safe work practices to remodel and hire lead-certified contractors.


For more information about lead poisoning, or if you suspect that you have been exposed to high levels of lead, contact Dave Thomas at The Thomas Law Firm.

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Thomas Law Firm
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