ST. LOUIS –(KMOX)–The Police Board refuses to let an officer move out of the city — despite his claims that lead dust in his neighborhood has given his two-year old son lead poisoning.
Night watch officer Igor Kahrimanovic, who has been with the department five years and would have to wait another two years to move out, wanted the Police Board to grant a waiver to the residency rule.
Kahrimanovic and his wife Lisa claim their two-year old son Luca was diagnosed with “extremely high” blood lead levels of 25 micrograms per deciliter. A level of five is considered too high, according to the Centers for Disease Control. (Read documents from Luca’s doctor)
For a month, Luca stopped talking, his parents claim, then resumed normal speech. The family believes the source of contamination is their backyard, where for more than a year the boy has been forbidden to play.
“We’ve been cleaning our house like crazy,” said Lisa Kahrimanovic, “and cleaning our shoes before anyone walks in. We don’t let anyone in the house with shoes. The dog’s paws have to be cleaned. Five or six times a day the floors have to be cleaned over and over again. And we’re tired of it. We shouldn’t have to live like this.”
Board Member Bettye Battle-Turner lead the charge to deny the waiver request.
“I feel sorry for the circumstances that have happened,” Turner told the board, “But there are a lot of people who live in the city and have to deal with those issues, or move to a safer home.”
Lisa Kahrimanovic says because her son has already been exposed to lead poisoning, she wants to get away from the city’s housing stock for fear that lead dust from other houses might affect him again.
“My doctor suggested the best way for us to help my son is to move out of the property because of all the constant exposure around us,” Lisa said, “and I understand the board is saying to move to another property in the city, but that’s my point. If over 90 percent of the properties have lead or contain lead in them, it’s not a good option for my son.”
Board members Bettye Battle-Turner, Erwin Switzer and Tom Irwin, and Board President Richard Gray all voted to deny the waiver. Gray declined to comment on the vote, when approached by a KMOX reporter afterward.
Board member Mayor Francis Slay was not present for the vote.
In his recent re-election campaign, Slay had released commercials touting his progress in combating lead poisoning. The Kahrimanovics say they requested the waiver to the residency rule in November. It was not clear why the issue came up for a vote now — after the election and on a day when Slay was absent.
Police Chief Sam Dotson told reporters afterwards that the board followed the letter of the law.
“The way that the rules and regulations in the police department are written, they would have to prove that for some reason there are no alternatives available to them in the city of St. Louis,” Dotson said.
St. Louis Health Director Pam Walker, who oversees the city’s lead remediation effort, disputes the family’s claim that they can’t find lead-safe housing in the city.
Walker says 70 percent of the city’s housing stock was built before 1976, when lead paint was banned. “So, it has the potential to have lead paint, but does not mean it’s lead contaminated,” she said.
According to the latest Centers for Disease Control guidelines, Walker says 1,800 children in the city have elevated lead levels in their blood. (See graph)
“If we look at levels at five (micrograms per deciliter) or above it’s almost 3,000 kids that don’t have elevated lead levels that would have,” Walker said. “We’ve done that by targeted testing and remediation. We focus on those houses where children live.”
Walker admits not all the children are getting tested annually. Of the some 20,000 children under five-years of age in the city, she estimates only 11,000 were tested last year. With the help of private providers, Walker says the goal is to test children each year who were not tested the previous year.
Commenting on the Kahrimanovic case, Walker says the city’s lead team has been out to the house several times to clean up lead paint from the front porch, which she believes was the source of the contamination — not the yard. Walker says the health department did spread some dirt around the yard, but she does not believe there is an ongoing contamination in the yard.
“Just because your child has elevated levels doesn’t mean your child is still getting exposed,” Walker said, “It takes time. Lead levels drop by half every six months.”
In the wake of the police board vote, Officer Kahrimanovic expressed disappointment that the city could not grant an exception to give him peace of mind about his son.
“I’ve got an application at home for the county police department,” he said, “I guess now, I’ll have to fill it out.”