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Lead Poisoning

Lead is not healthy for children...or anyone else!
Lead poisoning is a human made crisis in two ways
1. People put lead into housing and soil 
2. People fail to correct the problems.

Government attempts are inadequate
1. State strategy based on children being poisoned before action is taken.
2. Poisoned children move from poisoned houses, cases are "closed" and poisoned houses are left to poison someone else.
3. Health department investigations stop when Federal funds dry up; there's no state funds allocated to lead investigations and enforcement.
4. Federal Disclosure laws are not enforced except in the case of home ownership transfers.

It is time to remove lead from children's environments.

For 50 years Federal agencies have used children as lead detectors, acting against this neurotoxin only when a child is discovered to be poisoned. Now is time to change that plan. Too many children are falling through the cracks.
1. Universal testing of children from ages 1-6.
2. Encapsulate or remove lead from buildings where children live and spend time, eg. schools
3. Remove lead pipes from homes and water systems.
4. Create a system of lead removal that doesn't depend upon cooperation among three Federal agencies (CDC, EPA, and HUD) and their state level counterparts.
5. Require states to invest some of their own tax dollars to clean up their environment. Right now states rely on "free money" from the
Feds that comes and goes. 

Flint Catastrophe should trigger local action 
The lead poisoning tragedy in Flint, Michigan shines a light on a continuing problem in Ohio. One immediate side effect has been local communities are testing their water systems for lead contamination. In response to Flint, many local municipalities are taking a second look at the problem of lead. Yesterday, news outlets in NE Ohio reported that the village of Sebring (Mahoning County) held a lead testing day because officials found lead in "some parts" of the Sebring water system.  The reports: "The Mahoning County Emergency Management Agency has set up a water distribution center at the Sebring Community Center, 305 W. Texas Ave., to provide water for those affected. " According to the Vindicator, the US EPA requires that water systems test for lead in drinking water, but the interval between tests may be as long as three years. If your community has not done lead testing of the municipal water system recently, run...don't the next City Council meeting to demand action. 

Lead poisoning has become a "business as usual" story for many Ohioans. Years ago Ohio passed a law, set up systems, and assumed that lead was under control. Then, this past summer, the Plain Dealer uncovered the fact that the City of Cleveland, epicenter of Ohio's lead crisis, was not following up on reports of lead poisoned children for the past five years and that the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) was looking the other way instead of enforcing the state law. Local advocates need to start asking questions about your county's response to lead poisoned children. Are investigators going out to the homes of these children to demand that lead be removed before someone else is poisoned? 

Ohio's strategy of using poisoned children as a lead detector only works if poisoning cases result in lead remediation. 

An expert on NPR offers another solution. "It would cost maybe $30 or $40 billion to rip all these homes in inner-city Detroit or inner-city Baltimore or what have you and then to build new homes where people could live safely. But we've never had the political will to get rid of that problem. And instead, we've kind of minimized or abated certain houses at certain times. That is not good enough."  Maybe in the wake of the Flint crisis, advocates could start arguing that Ohio spend more money to remove lead poisoned houses and replace them with healthy affordable homes.

We're using their bodies to identify lead hazards

Prevention should be the new goal for lead warriors. 
posted March 29, 2016
Living with Lead
Larkin Page-Jacobs of WESA (Pittsburgh) has a good story about a household living with lead problems. "Jenny Stalnaker says she and her husband spend hours cleaning their Spring Garden home after their son tested positive for lead poisoning. Jenny Stalnaker, her husband, and their 3-year-old son Townes spend a good two hours cleaning their house every night before bed. They’re trying to eliminate any lead, or lead dust on the surfaces in their century-old home in the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Spring Garden. The nightly ritual began after Townes tested positive for lead in his blood at age one.'I didn't know what to think. What does that mean? Is it permanent damage?' Stalnaker said. 'And a lot of that is still up in the air. We don’t know. He has some behavioral issues - is that autism? Is it caused by lead? A lot of these things we still don't know.'"  
posted May 8, 2016

Lead myths that can make you sick

The risks of lead poisoning are all over the news due to the crisis in Flint, Michigan where state officials poisoned thousands of children when the emergency manager switched to a “cheaper” water source. But what you don't know about lead in Ohio could hurt your family or your neighbors. Here's some examples.

Myth: Every child in Ohio gets tested for lead poisoning. Not so. Testing is done by private doctors. Ohio recommends that doctors in certain census tracts provide testing. The Ohio law does require that a finding of 5 mg/dl be reported to the state health department. Right now nearby Pennsylvania is considering a move to a mandatory, universal testing protocol.

Myth: HUD Housing is safe, right? Maybe not. HUD has mandated that all HUD funded housing should be tested for lead and that lead hazards should be remediated.The HUD standard, however, is higher than most state standardz, so there may be hazards still lurking in HUD housing. Another loophole is that Housing Choice Voucher owners are not tested as a part of the Housing Authority (HA) Housing Quality Standards. Many HAs don't require that landlords provide lead disclosure as a part of their lease approval process. The HCV lease addendum doesn't not require lead disclosure.

Myth: Landlords are required to disclose lead hazards. Yes, but...Lead disclosure rules are rarely followed and tenants don't know to ask for disclosure. Plus, there's a "don't ask, can't tell" loophole. Advocates in Toledo (LINK) have been pushing for a law that would require that rental properties be certified as lead safe before a child moves in.

Myth: Ohio spends Ohio tax dollars to help low income property owners fix up their homes. Wrong! Ohio's entire expenditure on lead poisoning and remediation comes from Federal funds or fees charged to contractors. When Fed funds are cut, the programs stop. That's what triggered the Cleveland lead crisis.

Myth: Ohio EPA and Ohio Health Department ooordinate on lead enforcement. Well, no. You'd think that when Ohio Environmental Protection Agency discovers lead in drinking water that Ohio Department of Health would order expanded lead testing for children who might be affected. Alas, OEPA doesn't have any duty to report health risks to state of local health departments. Since the Sebring Ohio crisis, OEPA is pledged to do a better job of alerting local officials and the public about known hazards.

Myth: If the water department says the water is “lead safe” there's nothing to worry about. Two problems with this idea. 1. There is no “safe” level of lead. Water departments strive to stay below the EPA standard. 2. If the plumbing from the municipal water line to your faucet comes through lead pipes, the municipal water could be OK, but you may still have a problem. This is especially worth checking if you live in a Manufactured Home Park. (old water systems, often self-installed,) Many water departments will test for you on request.

Myth: If the water's not safe, they will tell us. reports today: “In 2008, before anyone knew about Flint, Mich., and Sebring having unsafe lead levels in their drinking water, Warren had them. In Sebring this past January, high lead levels caused the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency to order the town to send out notices to all of its customers to warn them about it and tell them things they could do to protect themselves from lead. The notification set off dramatic measures to protect the public – bottled water, a closed school, free testing of residential water, free blood tests. Yet when Warren had lead levels in 2008 high enough for the OEPA to require the city to notify all of its customers, few people ever learned about it.”

Myth: Oh, well...a little lead exposure can't hurt you. On going studies of the effect of lead on the nervous systems shows that there is no safe level of lead. The original “safe level” in Ohio was double the current safe level.

Myth: Citizen action can't make a difference. The reality is that only citizen action will result in prevention and remediation. It is pretty clear from the Flint example that complaining to the public officials is the wrong way to solve the problem. Only rarely have politicians or regulators come forward with courageous actions. Journalists have been at the forefront of efforts to bring about change. Tenants are urged to complain, have children tested, and work collectively with other residents to focus media attention on the problems.

 Notes & Links

HUD lead disclosure rule

Know your rights and landlord duties

Lead in drinking water

Lead News in Ohio

Lead news national

Lead Safe Housing

Ohio Healthy Homess Network

Sebring Ohio stories

Lead checklist attached at the bottom on this page

Federal guidance attached at the bottom of this page

  Thanks to Environmental Health Watch for some of the content on this page! 
Lauren Hull Green from Fair Housing contact Service in Akron for pushing Flint as a social justice issue.

Spencer Wells,
Jan 24, 2016, 8:56 AM
Spencer Wells,
Jan 24, 2016, 8:53 AM