The On-Going Fight Against Lead Poisoning

a community voice ACORN Environment Ideas and Issues

            New Orleans      Mi companera is on one lead-free listserv after another.  A Community Voice, the former Louisiana ACORN, and an affiliate of ACORN International, has been a lead crusader for decades now.  From time to time, they have the resources for major testing programs, and the results are always depressing in New Orleans and elsewhere.  Anytime I see a lead story in print, my simple job is to forward it to her, so that she can post to her comrades around the country and the world.  There are regular calls with people she refers to as her “lead-heads.”  This is a continuing battle with no victory in sight.

Seeing a front-page story in the Times, I’m sure this is one none of them will be able to miss.  What was refreshing about the piece is rather than just the litany of damage still being done to children, the reporters pointed fingers clearly at the real estate and insurance industries for allowing this health crisis to continue and doing nothing to stop it.

They were less pointed about the role of the government in this issue, but perhaps that’s because there has been some progress.  The bottom line on the science is that no level of lead is safe for children and any exposure might cause irreversible damage to young bodies and minds.  That’s the terrible truth.  The rest is politics.  The CDC has maintained a standard of 5 micrograms per deciliter, which calculates at 150,000 children suffering from lead exposure.  More recently in October 2021, the CDC lowered the rate to 3.5 micrograms per deciliter, which now numbers 350,000 children with elevated lead rates.  It’s impossible to see this as acceptable.

Quietly, insurance companies have amended their policies to not cover landlords who allow lead hazards to poison tenants.  The landlords too often create limited liability corporations to shield themselves from any damage payments to tenants.  As the Times’ report indicates, this means lawyers, often working on contingency for lower-income families victimized in this way, are less willing to go to court to recover money for health care and rehabilitation, because all the deeper pockets have now been emptied.

Insurance companies and real estate interests are regulated by the states, so some have tried to force these big players to do right, but in most states insurance and real estate interests are also among the largest and most powerful lobbyists.  Th Biden Build Back Better bill included money to deal with lead service pipes, which are a key part of the problem, but Congress cut out the money in the bill to deal with lead paint removal in older properties which accounts for 70% of the issue, according to experts.

Obviously, lead in paint and gasoline, also a problem in no-front-yard-older-cities like New Orleans, Philly, and Baltimore rowhouses, has been illegal for years, so we’re talking about well-aged housing stock. Unfortunately, that’s the primary housing stock available to lower income families.  Being lower income that also means that such families and their children are more easily seen as expendable by insurance and real estate companies and the politicians that serve them.  Meanwhile treatment and special education cost the government billions, while these three keep dancing to their own music.  This is a health care and housing issue where there is a straight forward fix, if we could get our elected officials to stop taking their contributions and serve their constituents, rather than abetting the crippling of their children.