By Peter H. Milliken
Because young children are most at risk from lead poisoning, tap-water samples will be tested for lead in the Oakhill Renaissance Place satellite building that houses the Head Start preschool, said Patricia Sweeney, Mahoning County health commissioner.
She made her comment after elevated lead levels, meaning levels above 15 parts per billion, were found last week in water from four fixtures at Oakhill.
Commissioner Carol Rimedio-Righetti said she will be inquiring of experts today as to whether Head Start needs to be checked for potential lead-paint hazards.
Three of the fixtures that dispensed water with elevated lead levels were at the city health department, which is a second-floor tenant in the county-owned Oakhill, and the fourth was in fourth-floor space occupied by the county’s Department of Job and Family Services.
The county on Monday installed filters on the faucets that had elevated lead levels at the city health department, said Erin Bishop, city health commissioner. The offending JFS faucet in a former hospital room’s bathroom has been shut off, she said.
The lead levels were 67.4 and 34.4 parts per billion in two city health department clinic rooms and 47.1 ppb in that department’s employee break room; and 15.8 ppb at JFS.
Twenty-five other water sources were below 15 ppb, and 18 of those were below 5 ppb.
After 15 hours of the taps being unused and posted with signs saying not to use them, Tara Cioffi, city health department environmental health director, collected the samples last Tuesday and Wednesday.
They were then tested by the county health department lab, with results reported Friday.
New samples will be collected Wednesday at the four offending taps after running water from them for two minutes, Bishop said.
None of the water taps in Oakhill’s basement cafeteria, which is operated by the Purple Cat, an organization serving disabled adults, had elevated lead levels, nor did any Oakhill drinking fountains, said Rimedio-Righetti.
The county officials spoke at a news conference in the commissioners office after an emergency commissioners meeting Monday on the lead issue at Oakhill.
Almost the entire half-hour meeting was in executive (closed door) session, called to enable assistant county prosecutors to provide the commissioners and their staff with legal advice.
Sweeney attended the meeting.
“We should get some legal advice because, of course, the rumor mill’s running rampant” at Oakhill, Rimedio-Righetti said before the commissioners voted to go into executive session.
County board of health nurses provided fingerstick blood lead-level screenings Monday to 23 employees housed at the city health department, and none of them had elevated lead levels.
“Adults of general good health, if they consume lead, they excrete it,” Sweeney said, noting that adult bodies have fully developed organs.
However, she added: “For a child, who is developing those organs and developing their brain, the lead takes up residence” permanently in the absence of medical treatment.
Even for children, lead paint is the major toxic source, and water is a minimal lead source, Sweeney said.
Children or pregnant or lactating women are at risk, she said.
Adults working at Oakhill “are likely not at risk,” Sweeney said.
“The people who had the most exposure are people who worked in the clinic, if they drank from clinic sinks in the health department or [a sink in] the break room” there, she explained.
All Oakhill staff are provided with bottled drinking water, Commissioner David Ditzler said.
Water coolers have been provided for JFS and Child Support Enforcement Agency employees’ drinking-water supply for the entire six years he’s been JFS director, said Robert E. Bush Jr.
Bishop said she believes the elevated lead levels came from the pipes within the fixtures themselves, and she expects the county will replace the offending taps at the city health department.
“Often, it’s the fixture itself, and, sometimes, if you just replace the fixture, the problem is gone,” Sweeney said.
Bishop and Rimedio-Righetti said they do not know whether Oakhill has a lead water-service connection or lead pipes in its basement.