When her firstborn exhibited extreme sensitivity to smell, sound and touch, along with some obsessive-compulsive tendencies, Sarah Howard wondered if it was her fault, if she’d done something to harm her baby boy during her pregnancy. She just didn’t know.
She and her husband, Andrew, had only recently moved to Jackson in 2006, and he was their first child, the 40-year-old mother of two told CNN.
As he got older, he wouldn’t use public restrooms. The noise of the flushing was overbearing, so he’d just hold it until he couldn’t. He wanted his bathtub filled to a specific level before he’d get in. He demanded pancakes cut a certain way, and his parents kept extra syrup on hand because he always wanted the bottle full. When Jackson’s muggy heat gave way to fleeting winter, the boy struggled wearing pants instead of shorts.
It didn’t compute. Sarah Howard felt she’d done everything right during her pregnancy, she thought, even giving up her beloved coffee.
“I used to wonder if I did something wrong. Did I take the wrong vitamin or something?” she said.
Today, she and Andrew suspect another culprit: Lead in their hometown’s water. It’s a suspicion shared by parents of about 2,000 kids – and quite likely, many more – now suing the city and state. Compounding matters in the capital city of roughly 150,000, residents are accustomed to boiling water, so they can bathe or cook with it, but with lead, boiling water increases the concentration of the known neurotoxin and probable carcinogen.
Several concerned mothers and fathers shared with CNN stories of their youngsters suffering from an array of ailments, and there was remarkable overlap in the symptoms and conditions: forgetfulness, lack of focus, hyperactivity, learning and behavioral disorders, sensory issues and skin problems. Lead exposure, the parents are learning, could cause all of these.
But they just don’t know.
Corey Stern is leading a team of lawyers – some local, some from his New York-based firm, which specializes in lead poisoning and recently secured a settlement of more than $600 million for children in Flint, Michigan – seeking accountability for Jackson families.
The legal team met with hundreds of parents this month at The Mississippi Children’s Museum. As their children practiced puppetry, raced boats on a miniature river, clambered about a jungle gym and spelled words on a Scrabble board the size of a living room, parents quizzed the attorneys about Jackson’s water crisis and the legal remedies to which they might be entitled.
Stern explained the tricky nature of lead poisoning. While the state has blood lead levels at which it takes action, experts concur there is no safe exposure level for humans and children are susceptible to brain damage, especially without medical intervention.
Mom and son share videos of daily life with no clean water in Jackson, Mississippi
“It’s not the kind of brain damage where if you walk down the street and you saw