GIVING HISPANIC CHILDREN THE FUTURE THEY DESERVE
National Hispanic Heritage Month is a time to celebrate the many contributions of the Hispanic community. While we spotlight notable Americans of Hispanic heritage, there are thousands of Hispanic children in our Commonwealth who live with a stealthy threat to their health.
That threat is lead paint poisoning. Not what you were thinking, right?
According to the Pennsylvania Lead Surveillance Report in 2021, Hispanic children statewide are poisoned by lead at rates twice as high as white children. In some southeastern counties, the rates are staggering. Twelve times more Hispanic children in Delco are poisoned than those who are white. In Delco, the rate is seven times higher.
The main culprit is old houses and apartments that are more affordable but were built before lead paint was banned.
Lead is toxic – there is no cure for its lifelong effects. In children, this poisonous metal wreaks havoc, causing deficits in motor skills, speech, hearing, and cognitive ability. Early intervention is the best course of action, but that’s only possible if families are informed and able to do something.
For Hispanic residents, the problem with lead poisoning is complex, according to Emma Restrepo, host of the DosPuntos podcast and independent reporter for the Children First disParities Media Project. When she interviewed Latinos living in Montgomery County, many said they didn’t even know about the risks. For those whose children had been poisoned by lead paint, they experienced difficulty getting their apartments’ lead problem addressed.
Frequently, they said, their landlord is also their supervisor or the owner of the construction company for they work for, so they’re don’t want to cause a fuss. Some said they have spent money or used their own labor to try to eliminate the lead exposure in their units.
In addition, fear of their having children taken away for negligence and language barriers hold some Hispanic parents back from getting their children tested when they learn about the risks. “We are in a crossfire,” said one Latino resident who asked to remain anonymous.
The crossfire doesn’t end in the home. Nearly 20,000 PA children – mostly Hispanic – miss routine health screenings and doctor visits because they don’t have proper documentation and are denied public coverage.
And because six out of ten Hispanic students attend grossly underfunded public schools, far too many Hispanic children and teens can’t get the extra academic attention needed to overcome lead-related learning challenges.
Honoring Hispanic Heritage Month means seriously addressing the disproportionate impact of lead poisoning of Hispanic kids. If you want to find out how you can save children from harm, attend the Lead-Free Promise Project Southeast Pennsylvania Regional Conference on October 25th.
By ending lead paint poisoning, we’ll make it possible for the next Sonia Sotomayor, Lin Manuel-Miranda, or Sammy Sosa to make their mark on America’s future.