Woman's lawsuit alleges lead poisoning of son


A Columbia woman who claims her 7-year-old son suffered irreparable brain damage from lead poisoning has filed a $6 million lawsuit against a Mount Airy landlord.

Estelle Alexander alleges that the home she rented from Emmett Full in 1989 contained peeling lead paint that was ingested by her son Philip, then 1 year old.

As a result of his exposure to lead, Ms. Alexander says the boy, now 7, has a learning disability, a shortened attention span, hyperactivity, a diminished IQ and behavioral and emotional problems.

Mr. Full, of Mount Airy, said he does not remember Ms. Alexander and would not comment on the allegations.

Ms. Alexander could not be reached for comment.

Also named as a defendant in the lawsuit is Twin Arch Associates Limited Partnership of Ellicott City. Stewart Young, a principal in the partnership, said that Twin Arch Associates has a contract to purchase land from Mr. Full. Mr. Young said he was unaware of the property cited in the suit.

According to the lawsuit, filed June 9 in Carroll County Circuit Court, Ms. Alexander and her son rented a home at 4068 Twin Arch Road owned by Mr. Full. The Alexanders lived in the home during an unspecified period in 1989.

The suit states that flaking lead paint was present on the interior and exterior walls, doors, floors, ceilings and woodwork, "rendering the dwelling dangerous and unfit for human habitation, especially for children of tender years."

Ms. Alexander charges that Mr. Full failed to remove the lead paint from the home promptly, and when he did undertake a lead abatement effort it worsened the problem.

The abatement methods increased the amount of lead dust in the home, and improper cleanup left lead debris accessible to Philip, the suit states.

The suit alleges that the boy was hospitalized for lead poisoning and continues to require medical care for his condition.

More than 14,000 Maryland children tested in 1993 had elevated levels of lead in their blood, and in 1,600 cases the levels were high enough to require medical treatment, according to the state Department of the Environment statistics.

The Carroll County Health Department said there were fewer than 10 reported cases of lead poisoning in county children last year.

Lead poisoning can be treated. But children under 6 who ingest even tiny amounts of lead dust, mainly from deteriorating paint, can suffer learning disabilities and a lasting loss of IQ, according to medical studies.

Larger doses of the toxic metal can cause mental retardation.

Although the majority of lead poisoning cases among children are found in Baltimore, cases in rural areas are not isolated incidents.

Beverly Gammage, division chief with the state Department of the Environment's Lead Prevention Poisoning Program, said Baltimore pediatricians routinely screen young children for lead poisoning. But in the surrounding counties, many cases of poisoning aren't detected because screenings are done less frequently.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children be screened for lead poisoning at 1 and 2 years of age, Ms. Gammage said.

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