To test or not to test

I was in my pediatrician’s office this morning pinning my  5-yr old down on the examination table as she looked at me, terrified, pleading: “Why do I have to do this?”

“This” was getting a needle inserted in her small blue vein at the soft underside of her elbow, to extract blood.  “Nickel requires A LOT of blood,” the nurse explained. Then the nurse turned to me and asked, “Why are you doing this? I need to write something on the order; your insurance may not pay for this.”

Maybe I hadn’t thought enough about this.  Maybe this is crazy. Maybe I am subjecting my child to unnecessary trauma.  Moms are great at second guessing everything; I certainly didn’t need the pediatric nurses assistance.

I arranged to have blood samples drawn from my daughter to test for heavy metals like manganese, arsenic, nickel and chromium.  I did this because my daughter attends a school that was ranked in a national study to be among the worst 2% of schools with exposure to industrial air toxics.  I did this because five years ago, dust samples taken in the neighborhood confirmed that soot on our porches contained contaminants emitted from the nearby steel refinery, like lead and manganese and chromium.

I also did this because another family I know has been lost in a toxic nightmare since last spring when their son’s school approached them about his behavior issues.  Follow-ups with their pediatrician and a natural medicine provider revealed an astounding fact.  Their son had arsenic poisoning.  In the subsequent year, repeat tests show it to be chronic (meaning consistent exposure, not a single exposure) and have ruled out food and water as the source. That leaves environment.

We know that Oregon has high levels of naturally occurring arsenic.  We also know that it is emitted by polluters: metal processing specifically contributes over 60% of the human-caused arsenic emissions according to DEQ source material for the Portland Air Toxics Solutions; it also comes from agricultural pesticides and soil dust,  as well as combusted fuel from vehicles.  We know it is classified as a KNOWN (Class A) human carcinogen. We know that arsenic is one of 15 air toxicants that the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality identified as being up to 10x over health-based benchmarks in the Portland Metro air shed.  What we don’t know: How is this affecting my child? Are our children safe?

So, I am joining other parents who are taking the first step to answer that question.  Talk to your pediatrician.  Get your child’s blood sampled.  Go from there.  The right-to-know is our most basic environmental health right.  A good place to start.

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