“Leadie Gaga” educates about hidden dangers

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July 25th, 2011

Omaha, NE – This weekend, a mother shared her personal story about how lead changed her family’s life.

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Leann Howell and her teenage daughter greeted KVNO News at a downtown Omaha hotel on Sunday. In town from their home in New Jersey, they were both wearing matching blue and white t-shirts that read “Got LEAD?”

"Leadie Gaga"

Just moments after meeting Howell, one can quickly realize why she’s known as the “Lead Lady” and “Leadie Gaga.” Howell is the president of the non-profit group American Lead Poising Help Association, or ALPHA-Lead. About 14 years ago, her 10-month-old son was poisoned by lead, and now, she travels around the country, often in costume, to educate people about the hidden dangers of lead.

“We lived in a 200-year-old house I was stripping paint,” Howell said. “I used a hot air gun and sander at the time. I was the one coming down with the symptoms, I had migraine headaches, I had a metallic taste in my mouth and I was extremely tired.” But it was Howell’s son who was eventually impacted by lead, with long-term damage.

“I have lived with the guilt inside of me that I had poisoned my son,” Howell said, “because I was the one that did renovations on the house.”

Howell said her experience dispels a common myth linked to lead poisoning, which is that children can only get it from eating paint chips.

“When you leave a room after you’ve vacuumed, and you see that haze hanging in the air,” Howell said, “that’s the dust that’s flown back out of the bag. And lead dust is very fine and it will linger in the air for people to breathe in for the next hour. People don’t understand that, people don’t realize how toxic their house dust is and how it can be extremely dangerous for their children.”

As for lead testing in Nebraska, this issue may continue to be dust under the rug. As reported by KVNO News earlier this year, Nebraska State Senator Brenda Council passed a bill that would have mandated lead testing for kindergarteners. Governor Dave Heineman vetoed it. In his veto message, Heineman called the bill “overly broad.” He said “screening should be focused on the highest risk populations,” and expressed concerns about increased cost for parents or guardians.” Howell said it’s essential that all children get checked for lead regularly.

“The earlier you can test them, the better handle you have on it,” Howell said, “because lead is going to stay in the body for just a fine amount of time before it deposits in the bones.”

Howell said for years, people told her that her child had Attention Deficit Disorder, and was autistic. She said she insisted that lead was the real reason for his learning disabilities. Howell said her son’s being treated for lead poisoning. He’s now 15, going into high school and has played with the school band for about seven years. With a smile, she said he’s finding his niche and may even get a scholarship for college.

Howell shared her full story with the Omaha community Monday night at the University of Nebraska Omaha Collaborating Center. It was an event hosted by Omaha Healthy Kids Alliance.

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