Lead Found in Peeling Paint at Bethlehem Center

Mecklenburg County health officials say peeling paint at the Bethlehem Center off North Tryon Street tested positive for lead. The school is home to a Head Start program for children ages three to five.

Officials say the lead paint was found on an outside awning and on the doorframes of two maintenance closets. Officials say these areas are not easily accessible to students, and they don't believe any children came in contact with the lead paint.

The pre-school, which is the former Tryon Hills Pre-K, says it notified 250 parents immediately, and the health department is offering free blood lead tests, if parents are concerned.

Jared Keaton, Assistant Executive Director at the Bethlehem Center, said, "We will take the same action to keep kids safe, regardless of whether they're exposed directly or not. We will make sure that the children continue to be safe inside the facility."

School officials say the lead paint was not discovered on a routine inspection. The health department came out because there had been a problem with the dishwasher, and that's when they found the potentially toxic material.

Bobby Cobb, Deputy Director of the Mecklenburg County Health Department says they inspect childcare facilities twice a year, and no problems were found before because the lead paint wasn't chipped. Cobb said, "If the paint's intact, it's not a problem. It's encapsulated. Another time we go back and the paint's starting to break down and become a problem, that's when we'd notify the facility and have them do something to either paint and encapsulate or to remove or other remedies for the paint."

School officials say work to fix the problem will be wrapped up by the end of the month. Parent Shana Noffke said, "If they can do something about it, because a lot of kids do touch the walls and stuff and put their hands in their mouth where they can get the lead poisoning. It would be good if they can do something about it."

Health experts say the signs children may be suffering from lead poisoning include lethargy, loss of appetite, and irritability. Lead poisoning can lead to learning disabilities, and it can even be deadly.

Lead paint was mostly used in buildings built before the 1970's. The health department also mentioned that lead has a sweet taste. If you have an older home and notice your child chewing on a windowsill or something similar, you may want to have the surface tested for lead.