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“It’s terrifying to me:” Hartford family poisoned by lead paint

HARTFORD -- You can't see it, taste it or smell it, but exposure can put your entire family at serious risk. Lead paint is in hundreds of thousands of homes across SE Wisconsin. One family knows all too well the risk of having it in your home.

In Hartford, the Beltran family prays that "God Bless this Home," but the reality is their home of 15 years is poisoning them.

"It's in our walls. It's in our floors. It's in our baseboards — everywhere," explained Angela Beltran, "We go up north to my dad's house once a year, and every year when we turn the corner I'm like, doggone lightning didn't strike it."

The Beltran family

Their house is also a home school.

Nearly all off the Beltran's eight kids still living at home have tested positive for lead in blood caused by paint. The Beltran's four-year-old, Elijah, tests the highest at 16 micrograms per deciliter. That number is three times Wisconsin's elevated standard. High levels of lead in children can affect brain development.

The Beltrans have made improvements to two rooms, but say much of the home needs to be gutted and they can't afford it. If they can't fix it, the health department may step in.

"They're not going to let a child stay in an environment that's unhealthy for them," Angela Beltran said.

Elijah Beltran

Any home built before 1978 probably has lead paint even if it's underneath layers of new paint.

"Childhood lead poisoning is one of the biggest public health priorities that we face," explained Dr. Geoffrey Swain of the Milwaukee Health Department.

Dr. Swain says in Milwaukee roughly 130,000 homes have lead paint. The Milwaukee Health Department recommends all kids get tested for lead.

"Usually, we recommend those at six months, 12 months and 18 months, but it doesn't have to be exactly," Dr. Swain said.

If you live in an older home, check for cracking, peeling or chipping paint especially around windows. Make sure to wipe away dust with a disposable wet rag and hire a contractor who is lead certified to get the lead issue fixed.

If you've got lead paint in your home beneath new players of paint, it's probably not a problem unless it starts to chip. Be sure to keep an eye on areas like windows and door frames where friction can cause dust to rub off.

Lead paint swab tests sold at Village Ace Hardware in Glendale.

"If it's not peeling or chipping, best bet is to leave it," recommended Tim Stotler of Village Ace in Glendale.

Village Ace sells tests for lead paint. The Health Department doesn't endorse the tests, but it's clear when they're used in the Beltran's home that lead is present. The lead test swab turns red on contact, which is indication of lead paint.

Lead block water-based paint primer

Village Ace also sells Lead Block -- a water-based paint primer.

"It's a thicker coating than your normal primers are," Stotler said. "Go ahead and paint your latex or oil products on top of that."

Even though options are available in stores, it's important hire a lead safe contractor to fix lead issues because home construction can send dust flying into the air and make the problem much worse.

Red liquid appears after a lead test swab comes in contact with paint at the Beltran's home. This indicates lead is present.

"It's really scary to think that something you can't see can affect your kids," Angela Beltran said. "It's terrifying to me."

Due the high lead levels in the Beltran home, especially Elijah's, the state of Wisconsin has been notified. Health officials will walk through the home and help the family come up with a plan of action.

Now, the family is worried the state will say some of the kids can't live there anymore and they could be split up. State officials tell FOX6's Contact 6 that happens very rarely.

If you'd like to help the Beltrans, you can donate by clicking HERE.