Incorporating Lead Aware Times ( ISSN 1440-4966) and Lead Advisory Service News ( ISSN 1440-0561)
The journal of The LEAD (Lead Education and Abatement Design) Group Inc.
The following article is reprinted with kind permission, from the Ashburton Guardian, New Zealand (16/12/93).
A teething Mid Canterbury [New Zealand] toddler chewed enough lead-based paint from her renovated cot to die from lead poisoning, Ashburton Coroner Laurence Cooney has been told.
Twelve-month-old Cody Marie Mann ingested 8.1 square centimetres of the paint and the undercoat and died of a condition so rare several doctors failed to diagnose it.
A Christchurch pathologist who found high levels of lead in Cody’s body after her death asked police to investigate because the chemical concentration was so abnormal.
Mr Cooney said Cody's mother, Katrina Mann, sought all the right advice when her baby was ill and could not be blamed for the death.
Miss Mann told Mr Cooney at yesterday’s inquest Cody was born on August 15, 1992, and was a happy and contented baby.
About May this year she began sleeping in a cot repainted by her partner, Michael McCormick, with a plastic-type paint recommended for the job. The cot was between 30 and 40 years old.
When Cody developed two teeth she began to chew the top rails of the cot, which the couple then coated with fabric as a deterrent.
Miss Mann mentioned it to her plunket nurse and to her general practitioner.
"I was advised that although this was not good for Cody, it certainly was not going to cause too much harm."
Cody’s health began to deteriorate in late July. The previously healthy baby became clingy and vomited her food.
"I contacted my GP on about August 14 and I was told it was normal for a child of that age, I presume because she was teething at the time.
"I was told to bring her back if she was really sick."
Unhappy with the advice, Miss Mann sought a second opinion nine days later. This doctor diagnosed an infection and prescribed antibiotics.
Cody vomited seven times that night and was admitted to Ashburton Hospital for observation the next day.
When the suspected urinary tract infection worsened she was transferred to Christchurch Public Hospital where she died on August 28, 1992. It was too late to treat her by the time lead poisoning was diagnosed.
Health protection officer Steve Hill said he was asked to investigate the case when lead poisoning was suspected as the cause of death.
He tested the interior and exterior of a house formerly occupied by the family at Princes Street in Ashburton and their present Mayfield home.
Mr Hill said Cody had chewed through up to four layers of paint, some of which was lead based.
The total areas measured about 8.1 square centimetres.
From that paint the toddler could have ingested up to 3.4 grams of lead, of which 40%, or 1.3 grams, would have been able to be absorbed by her body.
He said analysis of Cody’s hair showed lead levels climbed from two to 69 micrograms in the last two months of her life, corresponding with the onset of teething and her chewing the cot rails.
Mr Hill said he was also concerned about a high level of lead found within 20 cm of the 70-year-old painted weatherboard house at Mayfield.
He said lead was still used in some paints for pigmentation and to aid drying.
Some paints came with labels warning they should not be used on children’s toys.
Christchurch medical officer of health clinical adviser Dr John Holmes said lead poison cases were well documented, but rare.
"I am not aware of another case like this."
He said lead poisoning could be treated but the levels found in Cody were very high.
"The people I have spoken to have never seen anything like this."
Dr Holmes said exposure to low levels of lead caused retardation and a general slowing down.
He said the Public Health Commission was keen to study lead levels in New Zealand communities over its concern about environmental lead levels and lead in petrol.
Mr Cooney said Miss Mann had done everything a mother could to find out what was ailing her baby and fix it.
He said he hoped Cody’s death would not be in vain and that other parents would be aware of the potential hazard associated with ingesting lead.
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Updated 24 November 2012