How we came to purchase our home.

WPA Photo

A Works Progress Administration photo offers a glimpse of our home's past.

Reproduction Windsor Chair

Finally, a dining room set.

No Power, No Heat.

Our first snow storm and it's aftermath, October, 2011.

Lead Poisoning

Updates to our son's lead levels.

Bit By Bit

My wife's blog on being pregnant, giving birth and raising our first child with all the complications, hardships and joys that life throws our way.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013


We've all been taught at some point to be wary of wild berries.  Boy/Girl Scouts teach the basics of wildnerness caution.  Parents who are aware of such things do so as well.  But what if your nature experience is limited, never having becoming one with earth?  Despite the commercials showing Wild Berry Passion as the flavor of the moment, there's nothing flavorful about poison berries.

Several months ago, in glee, my wife and I planted grape vines purchased from a local discount grocery chain.  A few weeks ago, my wife spots grapes growing for the first time.  She becomes quite excited and shares a photo of the newly formed grape to her social media network.

While waiting for our little grapes to ripen, my wife noticed that these "grapes" looked funny.  She accidentally knocked a branch off and tried to save it by placing it in a glass in our kitchen.

Looking closely at the orbs, she searched online for immature grapes with nothing looking like these solid green balls.  Eventually, she realized that this plant is not part of the grapevine where she found it, but instead a part of a deadly poisonous weed called Nightshade.

It's "berries" are jambed full of tiny seeds, one plant can produce 80,000 seeds!  The seed pods and leaves are poisonous.  Some "herbal people" harvest them fort their  "medicinal" properties.  As we're not shamans, we've plucked out as many as we could after discovering their true identity.  They were growing next to the vines of our grape plants so hence my wife's confusion.  In fact, they were found next to our back door, around our rose bushes, by the coffin door and randomly throughout the perimeter of our backyard.

I curse the previous owner for being so lax with her yard maintenance:  free growing poison ivy/oak/sumac and poisionous nightshade should be against the law.  They all spread easily and, with a ripened nightshade looking like small berries in reds and dark blues (green, unrippened), they appeal to children.  With my little guy sticking whatever he can into his mouth to taste, you can imagine our fear with having him in our back yard.

Nightshade, specifically Black Nightshade, causes these symptoms:

Your mouth dries up and your pupils dilate.  You get diarrhea and vomiting along with obvious stomach pains.  Your pulse either sky rockets or plunges and some people go into shock.  Your breathing slows as well.  Next, you get a fever and start to hallucinate (hence the "medicinal" property). Your hands go numb, you get a headache; worse yet, some go paralyzed.  Oh, and your whole body sweats.

Sounds great, doesn't it?

Good news is, these plants are pulled out easily.  Their roots are shallow, wear gloves as a precaution, grab the base of the stem and pull it out.  It may even be better to place a plastic bag over it so that none of the seeds fall off.  Place the plant directly into a covered trash can to ensure the least amount of exposure to others and thrwart birds seeding the yard.  Thoroughly wash your hands afterwards.

I went a step further and warned my immediate neighbors.  They have a child and dogs.  And for my pet chicken owners, Nightshade seems to cause irritation in very small quantities but most chickens seem to know to stay away.  But, in large quantities, it can cause eventual death.

Lead Poisoning

My son, a walking, talking little bundle of joy reached his first birthday on June 27.  The following week, we visited our pediatrician for his first annual check up.  It was at this time that a lead test was given for daycare and perhaps per state regulations.  A finger prick was all it took for the screening.  A reading of 5.4 micro grams per deciliter was found.  The fact that anything came back was a shock since we had thought there wasn't any lead in our home.  With a reading of 5.4 mg/dL, we began to panic.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had a "level of concern" for any child under the age of 6 years who's blood lead level (BLL) was above 10 mg/dL.  In 2012, that level was reduced to 5 mg/dL.  A full blood test was ordered for our little man the following Monday.  A couple days later, the results were in.  His actual BLL was at 11 mg/dL.  The doctor actually apologized to us because she said she would have to inform the State.  We had no idea what that meant.  Could it mean that the State will come and take our child away?  Are we horrible parents for wanting to live in an old house?  Could we go to jail for child endangerment?

While waiting for "something" to happen, we went out and purchased over $100 worth of additional lead test kits to locate any source we could.  We purchased the following:

3M's LeadCheck Instant Test Swabs $9.97 for 2 test pack (times 3).
Klean Strip's D-Lead Paint Test Kit $28.97 for 6 test pack (times 2).
PRO-LAB Lead Surface Test Kit $9.98 for 6 test pack.
First Alert's Premium Water Lead Test $10.67 for 1 test pack.
Klean Strip's D-Lead Paint Surface Cleaner $6.97 for a 32 oz. bottle.

I wanted to find every trace of lead that I could find.  With the above tests, however, the following was discovered:

The keeping room was tested extensively.  It was the main room where our son spent the majority of his time.  The walls, ceiling, floor nails and random splats of paint came back negative.  I used the D-Lead Paint tester for all painted surfaces.  I then used the LeadCheck sticks for random spots.  I didn't have enough for everything, but I tested what I could with those.  The only light fixture in the room was tested, and boy did it come back positive.  Some of the black painted surfaces had chipped away and exposed the tin underneath.  The theory was, since the light was located in the direct path of the A/C, dust either on the lamp or being blown by it, becomes leaded and rains to the floor.

I made it a priority to remove that light.  A run to my local big box store was made, purchased a lead-free replacement and exchanged the two.  I removed the old light by first gently wrapping it in a plastic bag, unscrewed the decorative plate from the ceiling, detached one wire at a time placing a nut on it for safety relocated it to the porch should the State require it for any reason.  I then used the D-Lead cleaner to wipe down the ceiling and floor beneath just in case.

The replacement light was installed rather easily and actually doesn't look that bad.  It even has the ability to point up or down; currently it's pointing up for maximum light.

As noted in a previous post (Lead Testing), our exterior paint is leaded.  The interior was not, as far as I could tell at that time.  I traveled around the house, this time, taking more samples using the above swabs and sticks.  The original hardware in the home, i.e. door latches, came back positive for trace amounts of lead.  The HL hinges as well.  A lamp in our old kitchen, highly positive.  Who would've thought?

Concerned, I started calling many agencies, offices, and contractors.  I knew that lead abatement is not cheap but learned that there are programs that can assist a home owner.  That was my goal:  finding assistance in locating the source and eliminating it.

I Googled lead testing companies.  These hired groups use a hand held scanner called an XRF device that can scan down through 36 layers of paint, locate lead and calculate the concentration.  I received estimates from $800 to $1,200 to scan my home plus the cost of additional types of tests like dust swabs.

One company, a prospective lead inspector, mentioned a financial assistance program existed at the Connecticut Children's Hospital called LAMPP.  He had suggested that I try contacting LAMPP since he'll get their business anyway and perhaps because he can charge the full rate as opposed to an individual rate for me.  I did not care what went on behind the scenes, we were worried for our son but if the scanning can be done for free, why not? ... So I thought.

LAMPP is a grant based assistance funded by HUD for lead abatement.  Being a grant, our out-of-pocket expense would have been minimized or none at all, according to the inspector.

I became quite excited.  I called the LAMPP program director but no answer. I called another number and left a message and I waited for a call back...

Meanwhile, I received a call from a doctor at the Connecticut Children's Hospital.  She was called by our pediatrician to help answer our questions since this particular doctor was an expert in lead poisoning.  Our conversation was long and we learned that the majority of lead was found in the form of dust, not paint chips.  She told us to stop vacuuming as it may spread the leaded dust around and to wet mop our floors weekly.  Every weekend now we use a wet swifter mop to wet mop our 200+ year old floors. I mentioned the LAMPP program to the doctor on the phone. She personally knew the director and said she'll have him contact me.
Within 10 minutes, he called.

The director had plenty of knowledge of his program, as he should.  He essentially said that I do not qualify for assistance as I did not match the majority of the eligibility criteria:

1. Have a child under the age of six.  


2.  The home would have to be built before 1978.  
Double Check!


3.  The home is located in a pre-approved city/town.  
My town is not listed.


4.  For a family of three, the combined income must be less than $58,500 ($65,000 for a family of four).  
I guess I'm too rich?


5.  Have a child on Medicaid.  
He's not and we're also not on welfare.


6.  Be in Section 8 housing, earning a combined maximum income of $38,500 for a family of three.  
See Nos. 4 and 5.

Needless to say, I wasted days of research and phone calling for nothing.  I am too "rich", located in a "prosperous neighborhood", able to afford our own health insurance and own our own home without any government assistance.  I pay into the system so that other's can take advantage of it...


My wife was able to get somewhere with the State's Health Department.  We were directed to our town's own "Registered Sanitarian".  Honestly, I thought I was communicating with a licensed garbage man?  I never thought such a title ever existed.

I contacted this "Sanitarian" thinking that perhaps, since he's from our town, we may be able to find assistance for abatement (this ended up being a mistake).  He requested a copy of our son's blood lead levels and wanted to conduct a walk through with his supervisor.  Great, we thought!  We're making progress.  Perhaps we can get a grant to get rid of all the lead!

They came, and pointed out the gaps in our floors.  They started to explain lead dust and that a packet of sugar sized lead dust is enough to cause permanent brain damage.  Imagine my wife's dismay... They added that we should purchase an EPA certified HEPA vacuum (around $500).  And were warning us that official testing for lead could lead to unintended consequences.  What does that mean?

Our parlor is in the midst of repair with damaged plaster and a window off it's frame (it's an ongoing project that I'll have to elaborate in a later post).  They saw the window framing exposed, the planks as well, and started indicating that I was poisoning my son.  They also started to roll their eyes when I described my job:  engineer currently working near bridges being painted = assumed lead paint.  It's really a brand new bridge, for the record, so no leaded paint.  They left after a 15 minute tour then promised to come back a week later to swab for leaded dust.  Before they left, however, they asked me to seal the parlor up, just in case.

Their return was witnessed by my wife who saw them take a sample from the floors of the old kitchen below that old leaded lamp (since replaced - see below), the parlor, the dining room and our son's bedroom floor.  They also swabbed one window sill in the dining room.  The window swab was more of a proof that the lead is infiltrating into the home from the outside.  The sanitarian proceeded to open and close the sash, then swabbed the sill.

Upon inspection when I got home that day, there's a white layer of paint underneath the horrid dark green/blue present on the sill.  There was also tiny pigments of pink and sky blue.  These were all in a track of peeled up tape from our weatherization routine (Getting Cold...).

For the record, I've never tested that particular window sill for lead, just the similarly colored trim around one of the two doorways in an area most frequented by my son, the keeping room.

A week later, the swab tests came back.  Any concentration of lead particulate above 40μg/sf equates to a red flag (that's 40 millionths of a gram of lead per a square foot):

Dining Room        less than 20.0 μg/sf (undetectable)
Baby Room          less than 20.0 μg/sf (undetectable)
Front Entry        less than 20.0 μg/sf (undetectable)
Old Kitchen                  22.0 μg/sf
Parlor                       39.5 μg/sf
Window Sill                 505.0 μg/sf

OK, we're all now freaking out!  The Sanitarian gave us a warning.  We have to wet sand all the chipped window sills and repaint them to seal any leaded paint present, simple, but a temporary solution.  We'll also have to possibly replace our 250+ year old window frames and sashes should the leaded paint remain detectable after being painted over (insane and also another post to come).

Once these hopefully idle threats are over, I plan to strip all the trim in the house and eventually the exterior paint.  Please, Mr. Sanitarian, GO AWAY!  Your temporary fixes are temporary and your idle threats will bankrupt us!

We're waiting to hear back from our doctor regarding our son's latest lead test.  If his numbers are very small (or hopefully nill), then we know our methods of wet moping have been successful and the Sanitarian can just.... go away (as politely as I can write here).  

Lesson learned:  Do not ask for assistance from the government.  I love my son and do not wish him harm.  But I've been reading and hearing horror stories form owners whom have gone bankrupt or lost all their savings after being forced to replaced windows, siding, etc.  Let me deal with this on my own terms since I am obviously not wealthy enough to hire a certified lead abatement crew to abate our home entirely, nor do I qualify for a government handout.  I can't even sell the home because of our knowledge of lead being present (not that I want to, mind you).  I hope this temporary fix for the State will suffice and I can get on with stripping each window clean, as a cost effective permanent solution, over time.

My son's latest BLL results are in.
*July 3, 2013: Screening = 5.4 mg/dL 
July 8, 2013:  BLL = 11.0 mg/dL
July 15, 2013:  BLL = 10.0 mg/dL
August 7, 2013:  BLL =  9.0 mg/dL
October 14, 2013:  BLL = 5.0 mg/dL
December 30, 2013: BLL = 3.0 mg/dL
June 25, 2014: BLL = 4.0 mg/dL
--January, 2015: Int. Abatement/Remediation--
*June 29, 2015: Screening = 9.5 mg/dL
June 29, 2015: BLL = 3.0 mg/dL
December 5, 2015:  BLL <3.0 mg/dL (un-measureable) 
*Screenings are worthless.