Monday, October 24th marked the beginning of National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week 2016. This year’s theme is “Lead-Free Kids for a Healthy Future.” The Ecology Center has joined a coalition of over fifty health and environmental justice groups calling for federal agencies to make this week more than symbolic, and to genuinely prioritize a healthy future free of childhood lead exposure. On Monday, these groups sent a letter to the President’s Task Force on Environmental Health and Safety Risks to Children (“Task Force”), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) calling for a comprehensive federal strategy to end lead exposure in our nation’s children. The Ecology Center has joined this group of experts and professionals calling for swift, bold moves from responsible federal parties to end a completely preventable public health crisis.
There is no safe level of lead exposure for humans, and children are especially vulnerable to accumulating lead in their bodies during development. Lead primarily enters our bodies and environment through water, air, soil, consumer products, lead paint and dust, and food. In young children, lead exposure can create irreversible learning and developmental disabilities, seizures, hearing loss, kidney failure, reduced IQ, and behavioral problems. A recent report released by the Ecology Center found that childhood lead exposure also leads to significantly decreased lifetime earnings, increased juvenile and adult crime rates, increased healthcare needs and costs, and an increased demand for special childhood education – a costly burden on taxpayers for an avoidable issue. According to the CDC, approximately 500,000 children ages 1-5 nationwide have blood lead levels above the accepted threshold – 5 micrograms per deciliter (µg/dL) – after which governmental intervention is necessary. In 2013, Michigan was ranked the fifth worst state in the nation for childhood lead exposure, and up to 20% of children in the most at-risk communities have tested positive for elevated blood lead levels. The Ecology Center has been fighting for statewide remediation efforts in Michigan for years. We are now calling for comprehensive, action-oriented national policy as well.
Childhood lead exposure is a national public health issue, but it does not affect all US citizens equally. Communities of color and low-income populations are disproportionately affected by lead exposure since these communities tend to be clustered near contaminated sites, in older housing, and do not always have access to adequate healthy food or medical services. If the Task Force, EPA, and HHS are serious about promoting social, economic, and environmental justice, addressing childhood lead exposure is a crucial step.
The EPA should strengthen regulations and intervene in cases of lead in drinking water.
The EPA should protect the public from lead in the air.
The EPA should remediate lead in soil.
The EPA should strongly regulate the production of lead for industry.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development should test and remediate old housing.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission should ban lead in children’s and household products.
The Food and Drug Administration should ban lead in personal care, food, and medicine products.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration should ensure that workplaces do not expose employees to lead.
The Centers for Disease Control should lower the current blood lead level (5 µg/dL) threshold for governmental intervention because this is far above a safe exposure level.
Co-signers of the letter have asked that the President’s Task Force act boldly and swiftly in demanding that these federal agencies do their job to keep children safe and the environment thriving for generations to come. Expert coalitions of environmental and health researchers, professionals, and activists across the country are organizing, writing, and lobbying for healthier, resilient, thriving communities free of lead. Right now, the country responds to one lead poisoning crisis after another, community by community. What we need, and what we could have, is a prevention strategy on a national scale to remove lead from our communities before it causes irreversible damage to children. National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week can no longer be symbolic. Governmental agencies have the knowledge and ability to end childhood lead exposure in the United States. The only question is: what side of history will they be on?
Published on October 25, 2016