Lead paint warning: I-Team follows effects of lead poisoning in Chicago area children

When it comes to lead poisoning, "every single zip code in Chicago has been determined to be a high-risk area."

ByJason Knowles and Ann Pistone WLS logo
Friday, November 11, 2022
I-Team follows effects of lead poisoning in Chicago area children
The mother of two children who survived lead poisoning is sharing the effects after they were exposed to lead paint in their Chicago area apartment.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- In the last several days, medical experts have been warning parents about a poison which could be in your home. They call it a silent epidemic that people have forgotten: lead paint.

Health experts recently recognized "National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week" and now hope to encourage parents to have children and homes tested for lead.

The ABC7 I-Team has followed one local child's lead poisoning case for years. Now, he's sharing his story to help others.

SEE ALSO | Chicago area residents with lead in drinking water forced to use bottled water for nearly 2 years

"I would like to keep them away from lead paint," said 3rd grader Marshall Sontag, who is warning his fellow students about the dangers of lead paint. "If you get it, it's bad."

He was assigned to write a report about something he was passionate about.

"A lot of Marshall's classmates were picking Minecraft or Fortnight. Marshall decided to pick lead poisoning," said Marshall's mom, Caitlin Szontagh.

That's because Marshall is a lead poisoning survivor. When he and his brother were preschoolers, they had their blood drawn and tested every week after being exposed to lead paint in their Berwyn rental apartment.

WATCH | How to know if your home has lead paint

Kert McAfee, an expert in childhood lead poisoning prevention at the Illinois Department of Public Health, explains how to know if your home has lead paint.

The I-Team has followed the boys' case since 2017, when an X-ray showed paint chips in Marshall's system and his lead level reached 60.

The CDC says NO level of lead is safe. Even low levels of lead in the blood have been shown to impact IQ, ability to pay attention, and academic achievement. Marshall has been diagnosed with intellectual delays as a result of lead poisoning.

"He's constantly moving, running, jumping," his mom said. "He's a little behind in school and we're doing all we can to get him the proper support he needs."

"Getting that blood test is paramount to finding out whether or not there's been an exposure," said Kert McAfee, Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention at the Illinois Department of Public Health.

SEE ALSO | Chicago launches new lead pipe replacement program, insists drinking water is safe

Approximately 60% of housing units in Illinois were built prior to 1978, when lead paint was banned. According to the Illinois Department of Health's latest numbers, more than 7,000 children had lead found in their blood in 2019.

"Every single zip code in Chicago has been determined to be a high-risk area," McAfee said.

Experts say you should test your child for lead, especially if you live in a home or apartment built before 1978.

You can also have a licensed professional check your home, and contact your county health department if lead is found.


IDPH-vetted contractors who are licensed to do inspections and abatement projects:

Licensed Lead Abatement Contractors

Licensed Lead Risk Assessors and Lead Inspectors

More information about lead paint poisoning:

Cook County Public Health - Lead Poisoning

Lead Safe Illinois Task Force at Loyola University Chicago - Child Law Center and Policy Institute

"The Ripple Effects of Childhood Lead Poisoning" Report

The Illinois Department of Public Health - 2019 Lead Report

The National Lead Information Center - 1-800-424-LEAD