|Ending Childhood Lead Poisoning is Possible
There is an entirely preventable health disaster plaguing Pennsylvania that robs thousands of children of their potential and drains communities’ resources with avoidable costs – lead poisoning. This may surprise you because many folks think lead poisoning is a thing of the past.
As many as 70% of all PA homes today still have lead paint on their walls and trim. That old paint cracks, peels, and turns into dust, which young children get on their fingers and into their mouths and bodies. Black and Hispanic children have higher rates of lead paint poisoning because they are more likely to live in older private homes or rental units with deteriorated lead-based paint.
Lead is toxic. In children, this poisonous metal wreaks havoc, causing deficits in motor skills, speech, hearing, and cognitive ability. It can lead to attention deficit disorder and push children into special education. Down the road, adult victims of this avoidable condition can earn less, be more prone to reckless behavior and crime, and rely more on public aid.
This is why government funding and leadership on lead remediation is so vital. We cannot keep our children safe without them, such as:
1) Get the lead out before a child is poisoned. We need state and local housing code regulations because the places where children live are what makes them sick. Philadelphia, Norristown, and East Lansdowne Borough have passed laws requiring lead testing in home and rental properties. As a result, nearly 90,000 homes are now certified as lead-safe for raising children.
2) More resources. Inspection requirements without funds to back them up for inspectors, testing and remediation are empty gestures. Federal, state, and local funds must give our inspectors the tools they need to make sure no child is exposed to toxic lead.
3) Amp up public education. The lead poisoning problem has lingered so long that some seem to have forgotten about it. Our county health departments have to prioritize spreading the word of the risk to children. You can also urge your friends with young children to have their older homes tested. Our Parent Toolkit will give you helpful information to do that.
4) Consider suing the culprits. Evidence has shown paint companies are culpable in perpetuating known health risks just like tobacco companies. A class-action lawsuit in California resulted in a $305 million settlement. That kind of money would pay for a lot of testing and remediation in our state where more children test positive for lead than kids in Flint, MI, during that notorious crisis.
Several Pennsylvania counties are at the forefront of similar litigation. It would be great to see Governor Shapiro use his new bully pulpit to persuade the next state Attorney General to add the Commonwealth as a plaintiff in future legal proceedings, making the stakes much higher for the responsible corporations.
5) Pass mandatory blood testing laws. Already in this new legislative session, there are bipartisan efforts to mandate blood lead testing. Republican Senator Lisa Baker and Democratic Representative Jose Giral are asking their colleagues to sign on to legislation requiring blood screening for lead exposure of young children, a critical first step to finding children suffering from lead poisoning and getting them the services they need to combat its effects.
Stay informed about all of this by signing up with the Lead-Free Promise Project, a statewide coalition spearheaded by Children First. Childhood happens only once and it’s over fast. But the brain damage from this silent, preventable toxin can last a lifetime. With your participation, we can keep children safe.