Friday, October 31, 2003 Link To Herald The Halifax Herald Limited

Hospital repairs blamed for baby's high lead levels

By John Gillis

An eight-month-old baby in New Waterford has extremely high levels of heavy metals in her body, substances her parents feel she may have been exposed to in the womb because of construction in the hospital where her mother worked.

Tests done in late September by a laboratory in London, Ont., show Lindsay McMullen has many times the normal levels of dozens of trace elements, including lead, arsenic and uranium.

Her father, Shaun McMullen, said a Boston doctor who saw the test results Thursday was "totally astonished" by the numbers.

"Given her age, they just don't know what to do," an emotional Mr. McMullen said.

Heavy metals can cause developmental problems, including autism and attention deficit disorder, in children.

Mr. McMullen said neither his wife Sherry nor his daughter are showing any adverse effects now, but he's worried about what's in store for Lindsay.

Chelation therapy that could flush the body of metals is available at a Port Hawkesbury clinic but is not an option for babies, so the family is looking at other options outside the country.

While Lindsay's mother was pregnant, she worked as a nurse in the New Waterford Consolidated Hospital, where renovations were undertaken across the hall from her workstation in July and August of last year.

Oral surgeon Dr. Duncan MacIntyre, in whose office Ms. McMullen worked, is reportedly gravely ill and furious the government and Cape Breton district health authority won't take responsibility for his sickness.

Mr. MacIntyre was reluctant to speak Thursday, on the advice of his lawyer.

"This is absolutely huge here," he did say in a telephone interview. "There's a lot of people that are affected and it has to come out the right way because the administration has their own version."

Liberal Leader Danny Graham, who questioned Health Minister Angus MacIsaac about the situation in Province House on Thursday, said heavy metals have left Dr. MacIntyre, 39, bedridden and unable to work since April.

But Mr. MacIsaac said independent tests commissioned by the district health authority have found no moulds, heavy metals or other hazardous substances and nothing to suggest the renovations caused any illness.

Greg Boone, director of public relations for the health authority, said he's aware of only two or three people who blame illness on renovations in the hospital.

"We have no evidence at this time of any link between a particular work area or an activity at the hospital and any impacts or illnesses affecting employees," he said.

He said about 40 people have been offered blood tests to check for heavy metals.

"The results, according to the toxicologist, don't reflect any unusual exposures."

The authority brought in outside experts and had air, water and building materials tested. More air quality tests have been done as recently as Oct. 17. Those results aren't in, but no tests so far have found any problems, he said.

Mr. McMullen isn't surprised tests done months after the construction are coming up clean, but he doesn't buy the official assurances that there's no connection between the hospital and people who are sick.

"We're not talking three or four people, right now we're talking numbers in the high teens, if not more that we're not aware of," he said. "That's a pattern to me."

Mr. Graham called on officials to stop "skating around" a public health problem and take some action to make sure no one else gets sick.

"Common sense defies what's being suggested by the minister of health and the district health authority," he told reporters.

"There is clearly a connection. This thing doesn't happen out of the blue to the same people all in one area who are exposed to this problem."