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Lead poisoning-the environmental toxin that keeps on killing

A new study in the British medical journal Lancet Public Health finds that lead in housing, soil and water is contributing to heart disease in adults. CNN's story on the study captures the crisis in a headline: "US deaths from lead exposure 10 times higher than thought, study suggests."

This is big news because the connection between lead and adult disease breaks the stereotype of lead poisoning being a children's problem. The study finds that even low levels of exposure can contribute to permanent harm. This news may spark additional efforts to make lead poisoning a major public health threat like smoking or opioids. And...since housing is the primary source of environmental lead, lead poisoning is a RHINO issue too.

Lead poisoning contributes to 410,000 heart disease deaths in the US every year, roughly comparable to the 480,000 premature deaths from smoking. CNN's report on the study quotes study author Dr. Bruce Lanphear as saying: " 'Nobody had even tried to estimate the number of deaths caused by lead exposure using a nationally representative sample of adults....'

The new findings emphasize the need for ongoing elimination of lead hazards. Vox magazine concludes "With limited treatments available for lead...the ideal solution is prevention.”

Ohio's strategy of waiting for children to be poisoned before removing lead hazards is ass-backwards. Lead hazards don't just result in educational and behavioral deficiencies, they are life threatening. That fact moves lead poisoning out of the category of a niche illness and into the public health mainstream. Are you listening health providers?

The new study also revises the social cost of lead poisoning since the treatment of heart disease is a "big ticket" item in healthcare today. A 2017 study of the costs of lead poisoning by the Pew Center on the States found that "...returns on large-scale lead abatement efforts would yield at least $17 per dollar invested, saving billions of taxpayer dollars through a range of social benefits." When you factor in the savings from reduced heart disease, the savings multiply again.

The study may reduce industry resistance paying compensation for damages caused by lead paint. In California, ten cities are asking for $1.15 billion in compensation for public expenditures caused by paint manufacturers. "The lower court held the paint companies responsible for assessing and remediating toxic lead based paint from more than four million primarily low-income homes and apartments...." A recent California Supreme Court decision upheld those claims against paint manufacturers. The message of this new study may be "settle now".

In Ohio, local jurisdictions are barred from bringing nuisance lawsuits against paint companies, but the state itself is not barred from that bringing claims. In fact, Gubernatorial candidate Richard Cordray dropped a nuisance lawsuit against the paint manufacturers when he succeeded Mark Dann as State Attorney General. Will candidate Cordray rethink his position? Will AG candidate Dettelbach consider bringing nuisance claims against paint companies if he is elected?

Keep in mind that these are still early days. It took 20 years for the pioneering research of Professor Herbert Needleman to be translated into public policy. Today, communities are more aware than ever of the costs of lead poisoning, but they are largely not mobilized to change from a "poisoned child' strategy to a "poisoned home" strategy. Let's not wait another 20 years to start making a difference. RHINO says "when change is in the air, open every window."

Posted March 18, 2018

Thanks to GrahamS and DarrickW for sharing this story.

Story series from RHINO

What do you want to do? 
Mary Clark responds to CityScape story on Slumlords in Cincinnati.
"As an agent with a background in rental housing, especially multifamilies, I have always wondered what we can do to bring standards to investment and how to mandate some kind of education for any entity or person planning on purchasing rental housing in Ohio. This is a complicated situation but the lack of education for prospective investors seems to be an important aspect which is overlooked." Read more here.

Need more news?

Affordable in Ohio is a five part series in November 2015 looks at affordability issues in Ohio. here

Affordable in Ohio here

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