Lead poisoning enforcement is based on using children as canaries in the lead mine. We test children's blood and, if they are poisoned, then government proceeds to identify the source of the lead, and correct the conditions.
Image by Paul Webb
Here's the problem 1. Children are poisoned then treated, but not cured. 2. Too few children are tested 3. Landlords have not held accountable to report known lead hazards to tenants. 4. Ohio Department of Health has not been willing to share addresses of lead poisoned houses with the public. 5. Often lead sources are not remediated because of a lack of funding. Cleveland's Toxic Neglect.
Why are advocates critical?
The success of the Toledo Lead Poisoning Prevention Coalition (TLPPC) proves that a broadly based coalition of housing, health, children's, education and faith groups united around a common goal and strategy can change public opinion and enact new legislation.
Other key actors in the citizen effort are engaged opinion leaders. Early in Toledo's campaign, the Toledo Blade took a leadership postion. After Flint, public officials came to understand that they will be called upon to answer the questions: "what did you know and when did you know it?" Without that citizen leadership, there isn't even a choir to preach to. No nonprofit would dare risk the loss of funding that would result from taking leadership on this issue, but it shouldn't be impossible to find a civic or faith based organization that would take the lead and then use the nonprofits as "consultants."
When change is in the air, open all the windows
Since Flint, thoughtful citizens have been awakened (again) to the problem of lead poisoning. Change is in the air.
Also this week the New York Times reports on 1,100 public housing tenants who were (finally) being relocated from their homes in East Chicago, Indiana. Years ago, their homes were constructed on the site of a lead smelting operation. According to the article “...the most pressing question for residents is why they were not informed until last month that even the top six inches of soil in their yards had up to 30 times more lead than the level considered safe for children to play in, and that it also had hazardous levels of arsenic. Farther down, the contamination is much worse. There have been no satisfactory answers.” As in Flint, public officials are being asked “What did you know and when did you know it?”
Also this week, six local and national environmental groups have sued EPA for its failure to bring lead standards into conformity with the Centers for Disease Control recommendation. “The lead problem particularly affects cities with dense housing stock, built mostly before 1950. In Los Angeles County, 99 percent of the lead poisoning cases there are connected to old housing or contaminated soil surrounding that housing, according to the suit.” Keep in mind that CDC says THERE IS NO SAFE LEVEL and that prevention is the best strategy. What did you know and when did you know it?
Here’s the challenge for advocates. Move from ideas to action. RHINO member and lead professional Paul Webb writes: “Oversight by USEPA, HUD, and the State of Ohio has little value except to amass ever-larger backlogs of uncorrected lead hazards. They should not be allowed to obstruct local community-based dust-wipe testing and lead hazard mitigation. Anyone who doubts that need only examine the recent public record in Pittsburgh, Cleveland, East Chicago, Flint and many other places.“ Citizen action is required to move elected officials away from excuses for past failures and plans to make dysfunctional systems more efficient. Toledo’s advocates are showing the way. The key was a strong coalition of housing, health, child, faith, and education advocates coming together around a common issue (a lead safe ordinance) and a common strategy. Extra...Extra read all about it at http://home.rhinohio.com/advocate/lead-enforcement/lead-safe-housing
Are you too busy to start a campaign for children’s heath? If you are already working on a different housing advocacy campaign, then encourage another organization in your community to take leadership on lead. Everyone has a stake in preventing lead poisoning: educators, the faith community, housing advocates, children’s advocates and the health establishment. The winds of change are blowing. Open all the windows.
PS: be sure to read RHINO member Paul Webb’s article: