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Lead is one of the great tragedies of human civilization going back to the greeks who knew it was toxic. Lead is in hair coloring, lipstick, thousands of products, we are insane for lead.
You are making a mountain out of a molehill. Of course the sources should be eliminated. But the evidence is becoming rock solid that levels well below 5 ucg/dl are toxic and cause deaths and damage.
Concentrations of lead in blood lower than 5 μg/dL (<0·24 μmol/L) are an important, but largely ignored, risk factor for death in the USA, particularly from cardiovascular disease.
Some of us have consistently stated this position only to be abused by state and federal authorities that push to increase screening. Further, after the fiasco in Flint. The push was to spend millions of dollars to test water and spot check children rather than to fix the source, old pipes, fountains, etc.
Millions of children each day are exposed to low levels of lead exposure, but, according to the EPA model are developing elevations in blood lead levels
It is time to practice primary prevention.
Good points, Howard. If I were looking at the problem in Ohio, I would also look at soils but suspect that you can almost guess the order of magnitude soil lead level by using a historical vehicle per mile database (for those years when tetraethyl lead was added to gasoline) for a particular neighborhood.
I left the U of Hawaii before I finished the project (anthropogenic lead in Hawaii soils and coastal ocean with Eric DeCarlo) but always wanted to do a lead measurement in the playground that was underneath the H-1 interchange near the University.
I think hand-held XRF instruments that can analyze for lead are readily available (such as those made by Bruker). Testing houses rather than kids would be faster and cheaper. Then, use the Rochester approach and at minimum, ensure these high lead homes are repainted. One can obviously screen which homes to test by the age of the neighborhood and the homes in question. Just do it. Getting inner city/older neighborhoods fixed makes far more sense than throwing money at a 3.5 ug/dL approach that might tax some laboratories at their detection limits and require retraining staff in low level heavy metal measurements.
“Solutions” do exist. Certainly when funds are scarce why would interim controls be acceptable when for a lessor cost the existing hazardous lead can now be treated? Lets not forget that paint does not have an endless life span. Thus when one family may move out of a pre 78 home with lead, the new family is once again exposed to perhaps a failed application. Skeptical? Read the Ohio State University Lead Contaminated Surface Treatment Study. Hazardous lead can in fact be treated by way of lowering the bio-availability. While one municipality may acquire a HUD grant for $1.5m and treat 125 homes successfully in a community with 10,000 pre ’78 homes, doing simple math dictates it will take 80 additional years to complete the remainder of those homes. Let’s get serious.
Primary prevention of lead poisoning is a very intuitive concept.
Preventing children from being exposed to a potent toxin works better than waiting for them to be exposed to a potent toxin.
There is clear evidence that the approach is effective, especially in communities with high incidence of exposures. CDC can help with clear(er) guidance, HUD can help with more targeted funds, EPA can help with a greater focus on enforcement. Several states have taken the lead in developing primary prevention programs. like Maryland, Massachusetts, NY and Rochester NY. More States and communities can help with a new, smarter focus on housing code actions. The list goes on….
But, in States with older housing, the scope of the problem is daunting.
But waiting because the problem is so large isn’t a good solution.
Thank you for the most insightful article on lead that I’ve read in a long time.
It is completely possible now to effectively seal and treat hazardous lead in these homes. Treat by way of lowering the bio-availability of what’s allowed to absorb into the bloodstream. Cost effective, easy to apply, much better than regular paint. Don’t believe it? Contact me directly for the unbiased OSU study demonstrating such claims. email@example.com
Excellent piece! Thank you. And thank you to Howard Mielke and any other experts who join in with guidance and further insight.
I have a question re:
“The only benefit to landlords who pay for the requisite upgrades, he said, may be that their young tenants “don’t fail math.” What property owners need, Newman said, are financial incentives such as tax deductions for lead abatement that close loops by providing more tangible returns on investment.”
Is there an organization or individual who is working on just this? Trying to change the minutia of the tax code and the way insurance works in the interest of lead poison prevention?
It seems to me that right now there are only the courts. The huge liability case in California (and Rhode Island, previously). Class action suits revolving around environmental health/injustice. And individuals suing their neighbors for negligence.
tbeller at tulane.edu
I have just finished reading this article. My eyes fill with tears for this family and all the families affected by lead poisoning. I also feel anger at the inertia that continues to play out on nothing changing to protect our vulnerable population. I am an R.N. who does home visits to lead exposed children & their families. I present workable solutions the families can be successful at as Dr. Newman does(diet, minimizing further exposure, parent-child interactions).
Let me echo the fact that goals for elimination of exposures have to be set, standards must then be adopted and enforced to support the goal of prevention and that starts with housing (paint, soil and water). Testing (visual and clearance) homes, schools and child care centers are critical and must be done before occupancy, rental or sale and upheld annually if possible. I urge all to look to Maryland for the one of the most comprehensive and proven set of standards and results. It has proven to be far more effective and sustained than any program in the Country. In short Maryland is focus on clean up of hazards before occupancy for all pre 78 rental housing, requires inspection, intervention and clearance testing before occupancy and during occupancy if hazards such as chipping paint (leaded or not) occur. Maryland also prohibits landlords from using the rent court to collect rent if they are out of compliance with the Maryland law. And through state enforcement of federal renovation rules (RRP) are ensuring actions to protect homeowners and require clean up. Maryland put provisions on drinking water for schools and standards for child care centers. In short, Maryland has reduced lead poisoning cases by over 98% and has done so by having strong enforcement by the State and local courts – where enforcement actions require full abatement for all properties owned by a person, corporation, partnership or LLC. We also must have government agencies and banks stop reselling leaded homes back into vulnerable communities. And we need to ensure federal agencies like HUD and the Department of Energy place as a top line priority the replacement of every leaded window in America. Please read the Blueprint for Action to Eliminate Lead Poisoning Published by http://www.greenandhealthyhomes.org
A strategy that relies only or significantly on testing children chases the ball down hill and will never catch up. Thank you to Charles Schmidt and Undark for publishing this article, and to the many quoted who pointed this out. We learned this lesson from Flint, and let it not be in vain: the problem starts with widespread exposure, not the poisoning. The exposure is the problem to be solved – the poisoned children are simply the tragic result of that problem. The way to solve this problem is to stop exposure and the focus must be there, not solely on elevated blood lead levels. Whether the source is water, paint, dust, or soil, the solution is found in testing children’s environments before the are poisoned.
Government has a significant role to play in keeping children safe from lead. But those responsible for creating this hazard should also be held accountable – as well as those who allow known hazards to persist. How children get exposed to lead is well understood. So we urgently need to start assigning responsibility, holding polluters accountable, and closing loopholes that allow people to plead ignorance or ignore their due diligence and refuse to find out if older homes contain lead.
It’s an expensive problem. Those costs should and can be shared so that we can all reap the benefits of children growing up healthy. And certainly the last ones to pay the price, which they pay so dearly under the current response, should be children.
What will come to pass is landlords advertising “lead-remediated” rentals for say, a 60% higher rent. That will push everyone else to comply. Of course, all the rents then will be maybe 50% higher than at present, adjusted for inflation.
Couldn’t help but notice the yellow Pelican case. These lead hazard demonstration kits were created by Ohio Department of Health staff in the Lead program.
Prevention is absolutely the best policy for protecting our children from the toxic effects of lead. That is true for paint, dust, and soil. It is also true for water.
More and more communities are finding lead in drinking water – including at schools and child care facilities where our children to go learn and play each day. It’s time to stop waiting for more test results. It is time to remove lead-bearing pipes and faucets, and install certified filters to begin protecting children immediately. In short, it’s time to Get the Lead Out.
To follow up on Dr. Jacobs’ suggestion that we hold the lead companies responsible: For decades after the lead companies – including NL Industries, Sherwin-Williams, ASARCO and Eagle Picher – knew that lead paint and pipes could cause lead poisoning they continued to sell those deadly products. (see “Warnings Unheeded: a history of child lead poisoning,” American Journal of Public Health, 1989 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1349776/ and
The Lead Industry and Lead Water Pipes: “A Modest Campaign”; Am J Public Health. 2008;98:1584–1592) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2509614/ )
Addressing lead paint problems includes remediation of not only lead paint, but also lead-contaminated dust and soil. The costs of doing this are not as high as this article suggests. A recent report from Pew Charitable Trusts and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (that I worked on) shows that an investment of $2.5 billion will result in benefits of at least $3.5 billion or at least $1.39 for each $1 invested (see p 45 of the report at http://www.nchh.org/Policy/10Policies.aspx ). This investment means the nation needs to increase funding for the HUD lead and healthy homes program and find ways to stimulate funding from the private sector, philanthropy and others. Why not hold accountable those who created this mess in our homes in the first place—the lead paint companies and the lead industry? Rather than focus on what a certain blood lead level means, we should focus on solutions. These solutions exist and have been proven and should be implemented to prevent exposures before they harm our children.
Addressing residential lead paint hazards includes remediating lead paint, lead-contaminated dust and lead-contaminated soil, not only paint. The costs of doing this are not as high as this article suggests: A new cost benefit analysis published just last year by Pew Charitable Trusts and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (that I helped with) shows that investing $2.5 billion would result in at least $3.5 billion in future discounted benefits, or at least $1.39 for each dollar invested. see p. 45 of the report at http://www.nchh.org/Policy/10Policies.aspx The nation should devote more resources to addressing the root cause, which means increasing funding for HUD’s lead paint and healthy homes program and promoting private sector and philanthropic funding. Why not also hold accountable those who created this mess in the first place–the lead paint and lead industries? Rather than focus on what a certain blood lead level means, we should focus on solutions. These solutions exist, we only need to implement them.
There is a major missing factor in the article because it focuses only on lead-based paint. The focus on paint is misguided. The lead exposure of children is due to all sources of lead dust. In New Orleans we can account for at least ten times more lead dust from the use of tetra-ethyl lead additives during its use in gasoline than we can account from power sanding off the lead-based paint of every old home in New Orleans. Lead dust from all sources accumulated in urban soil and it becomes re-suspended into the air during late summer when soils dry out. The late summer inhalation of lead aerosols from contaminated soil drives blood lead levels. Research conducted in New Orleans before and after Katrina indicates the extraordinary effect that the soil lead reservoir has on children’s lead exposure. The seasonal influence of the lead dust reservoir on the children is shown in Michigan, including Flint before the water fiasco.
Mielke HW, Gonzales CR, Powell ET, Mielke PW Jr. 2016 Spatiotemporal dynamic transformations of soil lead and children’s blood lead ten years after Hurricane Katrina: New grounds for primary prevention. Environment International. 94:567–575;
Laidlaw MAS, Filippelli GM, Sadler RC, Gonzales C, Ball AS, Mielke HW. 2016. Children’s Blood Lead Seasonality in Flint, Michigan (USA), and Soil-Sourced Lead Hazard Risks. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2016, 13, 358; http://doi:10.3390/ijerph13040358
This is one of the most spectacular articles on lead hazard I have ever read. Thank you, Charles Schmidt. In my hometown of Kalamazoo Michigan, the city commission has set a goal of eliminating generational poverty – a laudable dream. I think, as a historic preservationist, that this goal must include both minimizing the lead hazard AND saving older homes.