Reporting Mary Calvi
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BREWSTER, N.Y. (CBS 2) — There’s a mystery in the suburbs.
An entire family recently became sick with scary symptoms that left them with irreparable damage.
They believe it came from their water.
Could your family be at risk?
CBS 2’s Mary Calvi reports on how to protect yourself from the dangers of lead poisoning.
It seemed like an oasis in the suburbs, a place for their two children to flourish.
“We had headaches. We had a lot of joint pain,” Preziosa Piscopo said.
The family starting getting sick.
“We had stomach pains. We were irritable. We had confusion at times, the children especially. They couldn’t get words out,” Preziosa said.
One after the other, each family member became ill.
“We were very scared,” Preziosa said.
At first the stomach pains lead doctors to believe it may be salmonella poisoning from food.
But, ultimately, blood tests showed a different poison had invaded their bodies.
“They discovered there was some inflammation of the right side of my brain. The lead, our levels, settled in our bones and leached into our bloodstream,” Preziosa said. “It’s just disturbing all around.”
“Where did it come from, how did it happen?” husband Joe Piscopo said.
Their first thought, what everyone would think, lead paint, since the home was built in the 1960s.
A team came in to investigate.
“They didn’t find any lead,” Joe said.
As the mystery deepened, a potential answer from an unlikely place, the family pet.
“What happened to the dog? This is a dog that loved everyone,” Joe said.
The family’s cocker spaniel, Bella, went from being calm to aggressive for no apparent reason.
A blood test showed the dog’s lead levels were off the charts. After the dog got sick, the simple question.
“What do we have in common with the dog?” Preziosa said.
The Piscopos always drank from the tap. Their tap, like many homes in the suburbs, is connected to a public well, not owned by the family. They believe their lead poisoning came directly from the water that flowed through a rusted out storage tank, and pipes that were constantly being worked on.
It wasn’t until after the family tested positive for lead that the well’s old storage tank was removed and replaced. It wasn’t until 10 days after the replacement that the Health Department did a water test for lead.
At that time, it was negative.
“The local health department did not come to our kitchen to collect tap water to be tested for lead until after the old storage tank and pipes were changed,” Preziosa said.
Putnam Health Commissioner Dr. Sherlita Amler told Calvi the lead tests were done as required by law and stated: “We are extremely aggressive when it comes to lead levels. One of the most aggressive around. We go as far as we have to go until we find the source.”
“How much of that lead did we absorb and for how long a period of time were we drinking it?” Preziosa said.
While the family may never know for sure, experts say lead dangers lurk for all of us.
“Lead does not impart a taste or smell to drinking water,” lead expert Harvey Klein said.
Klein said the only way to know for sure if there is lead in drinking water is to have it tested by a certified laboratory.
“Lead gets into drinking water from leaching from components that the water flows in, such as water pipes, brass fixtures,” Klein said.
Now, the only drinking water the Piscopos use is filtered and store bought. But, the effects of their lead poisoning linger and affect them every day.
“I can’t do the things I did before. I have to do with the achiness and the inflammation,” Preziosa said.
Now, the family’s message for others to be aware, lead poisoning can happen in any home.
“You just pray someone else is luckier than you are,” Joe said.
Monitoring of lead in water varies from place to place. Public water companies test water at least every six months. And some big cities monitor lead levels daily.
For private well users tests could take place years apart.
As for the Piscopo’s family dog, he’s now being cared for by a rescue group due to his ailments.