San Diego

Sherman Heights Mom Concerned Son's Lead Poisoning May Have Gone Unnoticed

Sherman Heights has the highest rate of children with lead poisoning in San Diego County

A Sherman Height's mom said she's concerned a lack of understanding about childhood lead poisoning - even by doctors - may be a factor in high rates in her neighborhood.

Malorie DeWitt is a young mother of three children who are not yet school-age. Her 2-year-old son recently tested abnormally high for lead in his blood system.

The DeWitt's live in Sherman Heights, in a zip code with the highest rate of children with lead poisoning in San Diego County.

Experts say that rate could be even higher than what is reported to the state because only a fraction of children are tested, and even those the state mandates for screening can end up slipping through the cracks.

A blood test found Malorie’s son Merritt had unsafe levels of lead in his system. But Malorie said the doctor’s office who called her told her the elevated level above five micrograms per deciliter was not a concern. Twice.

Malorie said she did her own research and informed her pediatrician’s office that the Center for Disease Control (CDC) has lowered the lead level limit in children to five micrograms per deciliter.

“Then they called me back and said ‘Oh you are right and this is a high concern,’” DeWitt told NBC 7 in an exclusive interview.

Lead is a dangerous neurotoxin and recent studies have shown the damage is permanent.

DeWitt said her son is now scheduled to receive treatment at Rady’s Childrens.

She said at one point her child’s doctor’s office attributed the high lead results to possibly being caused by “Mexican candy.”

“We don’t eat Mexican candy and my children have never been to Mexico so that’s not something I’ve ever been concerned about or even heard of,” DeWitt said.

“Mexican candy” is not identified by the CDC as a risk factor for lead exposure in children. Old paint and lead in water are risk factors, with the higher risk factor being water, an expert told NBC 7 on Wednesday.

Malorie says she’s concerned other families in her neighborhood may not know about the issue or advocate as strongly as she did for their child’s health.

“My husband and I are really sad to think that there are other children struggling silently with lead poisoning or even possibly that there is an epidemic in our community that no one is talking about or doing anything about,” DeWitt said. “It’s very concerning and it’s very sad.”

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