EPA investigating possible lead contamination at Hamden daycare

Lead paint found at childcare center in Hamden
Published: May. 11, 2023 at 1:26 PM EDT
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(WFSB) - The EPA is investigating potential lead contamination at the ‘Over the Rainbow’ childcare facility on Broadway in Hamden.

Jason Borger used to send his young daughter Madison to that daycare until earlier this week.

“My wife was on the phone with daycares like every day for a week just trying to find someone who had a spot,” said Borger.

On April 25th, Borger got an email from ‘Over the Rainbow’ leadership asking parents to pick up their child ASAP. The email said the local health district told them to close while they did some testing. The email does not mention that the Quinnipiack Valley Health District was testing for lead.

Kristen Amodio is a registered sanitarian with the Quinnipiack Valley Health District. It was she who did the lead testing. She knows how serious lead around children can be.

“It can cause like severe damage, like irreversible damage,” said Amodio. “It’s a heavy metal. It’s toxic for kids under the age of 6. In this daycare there was infants and toddlers, so they are on the ground, putting hand to mouth, all of that other stuff. That’s how kids get lead poisoned.”

Amodio was contacted to by Connecticut’s Office of Early Childhood, OEC, to do the testing after the OEC had concerns at its own inspection.

The OEC licenses daycares.

One photo from an OEC inspection in April of this year shows what looks like chipped paint right above young children taking a nap.

The I-Team reviewed all the records for ‘Over the Rainbow’ childcare at the Quinnipiack Valley Health District.

An OEC report from November 2022 lists 11 areas of concern.

The cited issues include safety hazards like chipping paint, dirty sinks and an unsecure slide.

In March, an OEC spokesperson says there was a compliance meeting to see if things had been fixed. At the March meeting, the OEC asked the owner to voluntarily surrender the center’s license. Instead, the OEC says the owner got a lawyer and began renovating the facility to comply with the regulations.

However, those renovations needed to first be approved by the Quinnipiack Valley Health District.

“We told her many times she needs to get a plan to us and not to do any work until the plan gets submitted to our department, reviewed and approved,” said Amodio.

Records reviewed by the I-Team show that in 2014 a report found lead plaint at ‘Over the Rainbow’ in places like the radiator, ceiling, walls, baseboard, and windowsills. Health officials tell the I-team that isn’t necessarily a problem. Lead paint becomes an issue when it starts to chip or is disturbed.

‘Over the Rainbow’ was allowed to stay open, but had to be inspected every six months

Part of the agreement with the health district was any renovations at the center, which could stir up lead dust, would need to be approved by the health district and done by an EPA certified contractor.

When Amodio inspected the center on April 25th, she saw new windows and new paint.

Amodio had not approved those renovations, so she had no way of knowing if lead paint had been disturbed.

She shut down the center to check.

“This could have been a real disaster,” said Amodio. “She’s very, very lucky that in this case that there was no lead detected in those dust wipes, very lucky.”

Amodio says she took more than 20 dust samples from surfaces throughout the facility.

The tests all came back negative for lead, so the center was allowed to re-open on May 2nd.

When the I-Team stopped by the center, an employee told us the owner, Jaime Moran, was not there. Instead of answering our questions, Moran sent the I-Team a statement. The statement does not directly address the allegations that work was done without proper approval in April.

The full statement from Jaime Moran is below:

“At Over The Rainbow, we take seriously the health and safety of the children attending our program. Unfortunately, the building we rent for our program was built around 1950, long before the use of lead paint was prohibited. Paint sold today does not contain lead. We have had a Lead Management Plan in effect since 2014, as required Department of Public Health Regulations. As part of the Plan, we regularly monitor the interior of the building for lead paint issues. After testing of dust in the building earlier this month came back negative for any improper levels of lead, the Quinnipiac Health Department and Office of Early Childhood allowed us to reopen after being closed for 2 days awaiting the test results. We are currently working on a plan to replace or remediate two exterior doors and other exterior areas where lead paint issues have been identified. That plan will have to be approved and monitored by the Quinnipiac Health Department and the Office of Early Childhood. Until that plan is approved and the work is completed, our children are not using those doors and exterior areas.”

Borger took his daughter to her pediatrician to test for lead just in case.

Madison’s lead levels came back normal, but Borger still moved her to a new facility.

He thinks daycares should be more transparent about issues that could make kids sick.

“Doesn’t mean that you’re like off the hook because nobody got hurt, because it really could have been a lot of people got hurt,” said Borger.

A full comprehensive lead inspection is required for any childcare center in a building built before 1978, when lead paint was banned.

Any parent can request that information from their local health district. The center itself should also have a copy on file.

Amodio says she notified the EPA enforcement officer for New England about this ‘Over the Rainbow’ location. Amodio says it is the EPA who would have the power to levy fines.

An EPA spokesperson gave the I-Team the below statement:

“EPA is aware of the concerns about potential lead contamination at the Over the Rainbow childcare facility in Hamden, Conn. EPA is coordinating with local health authorities and will evaluate the available facts. EPA does not intend to comment further on an status of this ongoing investigation”