How a new generation of rat poisons menaces children

Part 2 of 2

A 1-year-old boy starts vomiting and experiencing diarrhea. Later, ripped-up remains of a container that held rat poison are found behind the family’s television.

A mother puts out two green blocks of rat poison and they disappear. Her 2-year-old son breaks out in a fever. His stool is colored bright green.

A 2-year-old boy walks into a room carrying rat poison. Seeing blisters, his parents whisk him to the hospital emergency room, where he is hooked up to a cardiac monitor for several hours

Scenes like these – which were documented in a government report – have been playing out routinely in American homes for decades. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has known for a generation that kids have too-easy access to these super-toxic rat poisons.

Every year, more than 10,000 kids are getting hold of them, and virtually all of these calls to U.S. poison control centers concern children under the age of 3.

Black and Hispanic children living below the poverty line are disproportionately affected. For example, a study in New York found that 57 percent of children hospitalized for eating rat poison from 1990 to 1997 were African-American and 26 percent were Latino.

EPA reported that these rat poisons “are, by far, the leading cause of [pesticide-related] visits to health care facilities in children under the age of six years and the second leading cause of hospitalization.”

Poisoned children can suffer internal bleeding, coma, anemia, nosebleeds, bleeding gums, bloody urine and bloody stools. Authorities have known for decades that thousands of children each year are exposed – although, fortunately, most are not seriously injured.

Known as anti-coagulants, the chemicals prevent blood from clotting or coagulating. One is known as warfarin – the same chemical sold to people as Coumadin, a prescription blood thinner.

Byline: 

Super-toxic rat poisons mysteriously seep into our world

Part 1 of 2

VANCOUVER, British Columbia – With the spooky glow of his headlamp illuminating an antenna in his hand, Paul Levesque stalks one of Canada’s last remaining barn owls.

“Are you getting anything?” research team leader Sofi Hindmarch asks over a walkie-talkie.

“I got it!” Levesque responds. Then a few seconds later, dejected, he radios back: “No. I lost the signal.”

Working in darkness, with the quarter-moon obscured by clouds, these two scientists are trying to figure out what an elusive, radio-collared owl is eating along this country road just beyond the suburbs that ring Vancouver. Their mission is to determine whether the decline of Canada’s barn owl is tied, in part, to super-toxic rat poisons.

Scientists know that at least some owls are dying under gruesome circumstances, bleeding to death from stomach hemorrhages in an agonizing and days-long decline. The culprit: An extra-potent class of rat poisons that has flooded the market in recent decades, designed to more effectively kill rats, a food source for the owls.

Scientist Paul Levesque tries to locate a radio-collared barn owl.
Photo by Paul Joseph Brown, www.ecosystemphoto.com

Six of 164 dead barn owls, barred owls and great horned owls in a 2009 western Canada study had rodenticide levels high enough to kill them outright, causing the fatal stomach hemorrhages. Pesticide readings in 15 percent to 30 percent of the others appeared toxic and seem likely to handicap owls in a variety of ways, scientists say.

Byline: 

Duwamish River: Have a say in cleaning up Seattle's biggest toxic waste dump

Byline: 

Picture 12,000 dump-truck loads of dirt – enough to fill eight Olympic-sized swimming pools. This dirt contains some pollution -- but no one is really sure how much.

Swept downstream each year into Seattle’s biggest toxic-waste site, the Duwamish River – this mountain of dirt looms large as the public gets a chance this week to weigh in on how to clean up the part of the river set to be rehabilitated under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund program.

 

 

Photo by Paul Joseph Brown

To see more photos of the Duwamish,go to www.ecosystemphoto.com

Seattle, King County, The Boeing Co. and the Port of Seattle – all major polluters of the Duwamish over the years – have laid out 11 plans that aim to clean up decades of accumulated toxic goop in the river. To scoop out some of the mess and bury at least some of the rest beneath clean sand, gravel and rock, the pricetags range from spending $230 million over 24 years to expending $1.3 billion over 43 years. 

The most controversial issues are related: Does the river need to be so clean that people can eat seafood from it regularly? And if so, does that mean polluted rainwater runoff flowing off a massive area of south King County – and bringing with it at least some of those 12,000 truckloads of dirt – must be cleaned up at an even higher price?

Early homelessness sets stage for school, mental health problems

Byline: 

The truest victims of homelessness are young children, who have no control over the decisions that put them there, and no power to change their circumstances.

The typical homeless families in the country are headed by young women in their 20s, typically with two children. Nearly half those kids are under age five.

The consequences of homelessness can be devastating and long-lasting for young children. By age eight, one in three homeless children has a mental health problem that affects their functioning, said Karen Hudson, social worker with Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and a national expert on homeless children.

More than three-quarters of homeless children under age five have developmental delays. And nearly 40 percent exhibit emotional and behavioral problems, she said.  These early problems can set the stage for problems, including homelessness, later in life. Surveys have noted that more than one-quarter of homeless adults experienced homelessness when they were young.

Children who lack stable housing face a host of challenges that stress their developing systems, including lack of sleep, hunger, fear, and increased levels of stress hormones such as cortisol, which can wreak havoc on young brains.

Sleep deprivation or disruption can make a child look and behave as though they have severe behavioral problems such as oppositional defiant disorder, said Dr. Ben Danielson, medical director of the Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic of Children’s Hospital and Medical Center in Seattle.

The symptoms that result from the stress of homelessness, can include anxiety, depression, extreme withdrawal, poor concentration or various forms of “acting out,” such as tantrums.

“We see attachment disorders, big time,” said Danielson.

Serious mental problems can go untreated because they are difficult to diagnose.

“Depression can look a lot different in kids,” said Danielson. “A child might not say,

School districts struggle to help homeless kids as number grows statewide

Byline: 

School districts around the state are grappling with how to help growing populations of homeless students, even as budget cuts further slash their ability to meet their federal obligation to do so.

Under the federal McKinney-Vento Act, school districts are required to identify and report homeless students and to guarantee those students transportation so they can stay at their original schools even if they have been forced to find emergency shelter outside the district.

Being homeless can affect how children learn, can lead to depression, and can be misdiagnosed as learning disabilities, labels that stick with a child for years.

“The main goal of identifying kids is so they can stay in their school of origin, so they have consistency with their peers, teachers and educational progress,” said Melinda Dyer, program supervisor for Education of Homeless Children and Youth for the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. That means providing cabs, bus passes, or other means of transportation for kids, even if it means they are commuting up to an hour and a half a day to school.

It’s up to individual school districts to squeeze that transportation money from their own budgets. “There is no pot of money for homeless students,” said Dyer. “It’s a big burden for districts.”

In the 2008-09 school year (most recent year for which data available), schools reported 20,780 homeless students statewide, up from 8,141 in the 2003-04 school year.

Of the 10 districts with the highest numbers of homeless students in the state, seven reported increases from 2006-07 to 2008-09. Bellingham, for example, was up 84 percent, Shelton, 39 percent, and Wenatchee, 18 percent.

Help for neighbors in need of shelter

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

If you’re in need of shelter, basic human services or assistance in Washington state, go to 211 Community Information Line, or call 2-1-1 You can also call: 1-800-621-4636 or 206-461-3200. 

 

For information about help for homeless families and children:

Wellspring Family Services: http://family-services.org/

 
For information about emergency shelter for young adults:

The Landing: http://www.friendsofyouth.org/shelters.aspx

Roots: http://www.rootsinfo.org/

 
For information about youth aging out of foster care:

Mockingbird Society: http://www.mockingbirdsociety.org/

Casey Family Programs: http://www.casey.org/index.htm

YMCA Young Adult Services: http://www.ymcayas.org/

For information about ending homelessness:

Building Changes:  http://www.buildingchanges.org/

The 10-year Plan to End Homelessness in King County: http://www.cehkc.org/plan10/plan.aspx

The Bill& Melinda Gates Foundation: http://www.gatesfoundation.org/topics/Pages/housing-homelessness.aspx
 

Generation Homeless: Young adults put new face on old problem

Byline: 

Shelters for young adults in King County are turning people away in record numbers as unemployment escalates and housing costs continue to be out of reach.

This surge in demand for shelter reveals a new face of homelessness, one fueled by the legacy of a failing foster care system and young people stranded by the crack epidemic of the late 1980s.

Tony Torres, 22, managed kidney failure and weekly dialysis treatments while homeless for four years. He recently obtained temporary housing. Photo by Mike Kane/InvestigateWest

Some of those young people are now having families of their own, and without resources, are winding up homeless. Families are the fastest-growing segment of the homeless population. Yet the group driving this trend – young adults ages 18-24 – is generally under-counted and under-represented when solutions are envisioned. Relatively few resources are being directed to prevent them from producing new generations of homeless families.

One of the most disturbing legacies of homelessness is that it can be handed down from parent to child. Children who experience homelessness growing up are more likely to experience it as adults.

Casi Jackson is part of the problem, and part of the solution. At work at a homeless outreach center on Seattle’s Eastside, she shifts her daughter, Tiana, 7 months, on her hip and juggles a cell phone in her other hand while she fields a call from a scared-sounding mom with  no place to sleep tonight. Slender, with long curly hair, and an unflinching manner, Jackson is matter-of-fact on the phone, and sounds older than her 22 years.  She knows what it’s like to be staring down a night without shelter.

Homeless families are typically headed by young women with young children.