MANSFIELD -- Between 20 to 25 percent of students in the Mansfield City School system could have been exposed to lead, according to a survey conducted over the coarse of the school year by the Director of the Ashland University School of Nursing.
Last summer, Kimberley Stansilo began working with Sherman Elementary students and the school nurses to test lead exposure in students.
What she found were students in the area had blood levels above 5, which is the current Center for Disease Control reference level for high lead exposure in the bloodstream, Stansilo said.
Experts now use a reference level of 5 micdrograms per deciliter to identify children with blood lead levels that are much higher than most children’s levels, according to the CDC's website. This new level is based on the U.S. population of children ages 1-5 years who are in the highest 2.5 percent of children when tested for lead in their blood.
In a previous presentation to the Mansfield City School Board of Education, Stansilo showed maps noting Mansfield as very heavy with lead.
"This area in particular is at great risk for lead exposure," she said in her 30-minute presentation to the board of education.
Lead has been shown to be an overwhelming cause of the achievement gap, she said.
Lead, increasingly found in lower economical environments, can have symptoms such as developmental delays, decreased IQ, issues with the central nervous system, renal disease, cardiovascular effects, reproductive effects and encephalopathy, Stansilo said.
In a graph, Stansilo showed the BOE, 95 percent of Richland County citizens have been exposed to lead, with blood lead levels between one and four percent.
Mansfield citizens have slightly less of a predicted BLL between 1 and 4.9.
The chart held students at Sherman Elementary at just about 87 percent for a BLL of 1 to 4.9.
Stanislo said exposure can affect children with a BLL under 5 micrograms per deciliter.
"We see academic impacts of lower reading and math skills," she said. "When we look at the predictions for the city and county, we see the students have definitely been exposed to lead at levels higher than we would expect.
Richland County ranked 64th of the 88 Ohio counties for lead exposure. Stanislo said the counties with higher rankings of lead exposure were in southeast Ohio.
Stanislo also looked at an Ashland School District elementary school, but never mentioned it by name.
She said Sherman Students did not get screened as often as they should. Screenings should happen at age 1, 2 and 6, she said.
According to the state immunization registry, Stanislo found the Ashland School has all of its students with a screening record. In Mansfield, 41 percent of students either never had the screening done or it was registered incorrectly.
The school board and superintendent Brian Garverick spoke with Stanislo after her presentation about how they could use this information going forward.
"The reason there is so much lead is because we were a high industrial area -- still are -- and we tore down those old buildings and the waste is in the soil," said board of education president Renda Cline. "So, when we're talking about that, I think it's important we understand the risk factor and understand we are not a toxic area either.
"Just because you live here doesn't mean your child will automatically have X-amount of lead poisoning."
Stanislo said she wanted to share the information with city leaders and added students were referred to the Richland Couny Health Department and other organizations that could help them.
Gary Feagin, vice president of the board of education, said it is concerning the students have already been contaminated.
"It seems to me we should be putting forth effort on the forehand to try to educate people so they can not have their child put into this situation."
He said he heard about lead poisoning before, but was never given this much information on it previously.
Stanislo said prevention of any exposure at all is the ideal standard. She has been working with a team in Rochester to work on a way to reach this gold standard.
"They did this 15 years ago," she said. "They turned that city around. School district polices and procedures -- they turned it all around."
Garverick wondered what removing exposure could do for state testing outcomes.
"We have to do something," he said. "It makes a huge difference if we can stop this by the time we get them in the fifth grade. What would our test scores do?"
The board asked Stanislo to come back for another presentation when she had more research to share.