New Orleans Here’s a simple question that I don’t think will take anyone long to answer, though perhaps it should.
Donald Trump and his latest wife have a 9-year old son, Barron. Michelle and Barack Obama moved into the White House with two young daughters whose age at the time was less than two digits. Hillary and Bill Clinton raised a young daughter in the White House during their eight years in residence. The White House is the prime example of public housing in the United States, so here’s the question: would any of these mothers and fathers be willing, or have been willing, to move their young, vulnerable children into the public housing on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC if the White House was using the same lead standard as HUD, the Housing and Urban Development Department, uses for the rest of the public housing in the country?
You know the answer. And, you know the answer isn’t, “No,” but “No, way!”
These days we’re reading the daily news about lead in the water in Flint, Michigan and the terrible toll it is taking. We’re reading about the on-going damage from lead paint that has damaged children in Cleveland for decades. Over 80% of prisoners in jail have shown signs for prior lead poisoning, where public authorities bothered to actually test them for lead, which should also be mandatory. Besides the tragedy of ruined and painful lives, the cost of medical care, educational support, loss of lifetime earnings, and future taxes that we’re paying for our negligence is in the billions. So, here’s what should be another easy question. Controlling lead poisoning should be a no-brainer, right?
Unbelievably, the answer so far is not yes, but no. There is a chance to change the answer though at least for low-income and largely minority children who are living in 1.6 million households with children at-risk for lead poisoning, because they are in HUD public or subsidized housing.
For some unfathomable reason though, and it likely has to do with money and, more disturbingly, the fact that the damaged population is in fact lower income and minority, and therefore in the eyes of Congress and too many bureaucrats, not worth saving, HUD’s standards for acceptable lead levels requiring action are below 20 micrograms per deciliter or 15 to 19 micrograms per deciliter over three months. As Emily Benfer, a Chicago lawyer and lead expert writes in The New York Times, these are already “levels that cause severe and permanent brain damage.” These are also levels that are three and four times the federal Center for Disease Control Center’s recommendation of “intervention for lead poisoning at 5 micrograms per deciliter.” And, hey, the CDC’s recommendations are also felt by lead experts to be absurd because the intervention level should be anything over zero!
There is a rule-making petition that is confronting HUD with a demand to change its standards for lead prevention. Maybe not to the White House level yet, but at least no worse than the CDC. Emily Benfer wrote the petition with her team and as she says, it has support:
I am thrilled to report that the Health Justice Project, Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, and 28 national non-profits, racial justice organizations, medical-legal partnerships, civil legal aid organizations, civil rights groups, scientists, public health practitioners, advocates, and medical providers filed a petition for rule making with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to improve lead poisoning prevention in federally assisted housing. We are especially grateful to leadnet advocates Richard Reibstein, Beth Butler, Dr. Howard Mielke, Dr. Bruce Lanphear, Dr. David Rosner, the Green & Healthy Homes Initiative, and the Childhood Lead Action Project for their support and guidance!
For the rest of us there is something we can do as well: write our Senators and Congresspeople and ask them to co-sponsor the bills introduced by Senator Durban of Illinois and Senator Menendez of New Jersey in the US Senate and Congressional Representatives Ellison from Minnesota, Quigley from Illinois, and Lawrence from Pennsylvania in the House.
Let’s have one standard for all public housing, rather than leaving the poor on the curb.