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Inspector helps get the lead out

September 10, 2007|By MARLO BARNHART

WASHINGTON COUNTY - When Cheryl Shank began working as a lead-paint inspector 11 years ago, she said she had no idea where it would take her.

But she is pleased and proud that her efforts apparently are having an impact in Washington County.

Pleased because fewer people - adults and children - are suffering ill effects from lead - a major health threat - and proud because as a professional lead-paint inspector, Shank feels she is contributing to that reduction.

"Lead is everywhere," Shank said.

Recent news of lead paint on children's toys has many parents concerned about their children's health. Shank said parents and others must learn to read labels carefully when making such purchases.

As for toys already in the home, either get rid of them if they were made in China or Japan or test them to see if the paint has lead in it, she advises. Kits are available at home-improvement stores for that purpose.

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A lead-paint inspector who works primarily in Washington and Frederick counties, Shank is in the business as a private contractor.

"I am my own company but I must be certified and licensed by the state of Maryland," Shank said, noting she pays a fee for that privilege.

She considers herself, first and foremost, an educator about lead paint and the scope of its effects on people's health. And Shank said people are always amazed at how lead dust can get on clothes and shoes, and then into one's home.

She joined the landlords association 11 years ago and is now vice president of the local group.

As such, Shank brings in all the speakers for the group meetings. When she does consultations and walks landlords through the lead-paint inspection process, Shank said she encourages them to join the association.

"I have such good clients," she said. "They do a great job keeping their tenants safe."

And Shank said the incidence of lead paint in everyday life is greater than many people realize, even beyond the recent recalls of toys from the market because of lead paint.

Vinyl window blinds coated with lead paint were banned in 1996 but Shank said many are still on the shelves.

"They must say 'lead-free' or 'Made in the USA' for people to know they are safe," she said.

Coffee mugs, pitchers, dinnerware and other household items might contain lead paint and could enter the body when used, she said.

Chipped paint on railings can expose people to lead, as can the dust that comes off buildings built before 1978.

"You walk around in it and bring it home on your shoes," Shank said.

Symptoms of lead poisoning include fatigue, dizziness, depression, forgetfulness and in extreme cases, vomiting, birth defects, seizures and even death.

"Lead is not good for anybody in any amount," Shank said.

But children are particularly susceptible to its effects on their health, IQ and ability to learn.

In most cases, encapsulation of chipping lead paint is better than removal since removal will cause the most dust, she said.

A Williamsport native, Shank said she got into her line of work after attending a Hagers-town Community College class at Valley Mall.

"I stayed for a couple of hours because I didn't know anything about lead paint," she said.

Shank said she was concerned about her two children, now 20 and 26 years old.

Before becoming a lead-paint inspector, Shank was employed in a variety of customer-service jobs. She said she really enjoys what she is doing now.

"I love people and I love teaching, and I get to do both," said Shank, who instructs at HCC and also gives seminars.

For more information about lead paint, call 301-790-3244.

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