Somali family sues over girl’s lead poisoning

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MANCHESTER, N.H. (AP) – The parents of a 2-year-old girl have filed a lawsuit accusing a landlord and property manager of failing to protect their daughter from lead poisoning.

Mohamed Mohamed and Maryan Muse came to New Hampshire as refugees from Somalia two years ago. In February, tests showed an elevated level of lead in their daughter Arbay’s blood, and by August, her lead level was so high she nearly died, according to the family’s lawyer.

Since then, Arbay has been hospitalized several times. The effects of lead poisoning – learning disabilities or brain damage – often don’t show up for years, but the girl’s parents say she has shown some unusual behavior, including violent outburst, crying and tantrums.

The family is suing the California couple who owns the apartment where they used to live, the management company that oversees the building and the owners of another Manchester apartment where their daughter often played.

“We are really angry, and we don’t know who to blame,” Mohamed said. “Should we blame the landlord? Should we blame the resettlement agencies? We don’t know.”

More than 200 people were treated for lead poisoning in Manchester in the last two fiscal years. Close to 40 percent were refugees, many of whom suffer from nutritional deficiencies that weaken the body’s resistance to lead.

Resettlement agencies try to educate refugees about the hazards, but the concept is not a simple one to convey.

“The difficulty is, you cannot taste lead, you cannot see lead, you cannot smell lead,” said Ann Dancy, who runs the resettlement program at Lutheran Social Services in Concord. “How do you really explain something you can’t point to.”

Dancy said the agency conducted a lead screening when it helped the family move into an apartment in Concord. But Mohamed said he doesn’t remember being warned about the dangers of lead.

“Even if they said something, I don’t know what they were talking about,” he said.

The family moved to Manchester in October 2005 because they couldn’t afford the rent in Concord, he said. They saw Arbay eating paint chips but did not understand the risk that posed, Muse said.

Wen Lin, who owns the apartment building with his wife, said he wasn’t aware of any lead hazards until Arbay and other children tested positive in August.

A local company, Property Services LLC, oversees the building.

“I sympathize with the parents, but we have no idea where this child got poisoned,” he said. “It could be from our building, or it could be from the sand outside. Or it could be from the previous building they were living in. There are a lot of unknowns.”

Arbay’s family has moved to another apartment. Her lead levels are down, but still elevated.

“We have to pay very close attention every step of her life,” her father said. “Everywhere we go, we have to keep her very close to us.”



Information from: New Hampshire Union Leader, http://www.unionleader.com

AP-ES-01-01-07 1127EST

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