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Lead news national

Since Flint hit the headlines, national media have found renewed focus on lead poisoning issues. 

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.


Important Legal Decision on Lead Paint Liability

    RHINO friend EmilyB reports "Yesterday, the Court of Appeals for the State of California upheld the Santa Clara Superior Court ruling that found lead paint manufacturers responsible for the 'public nuisance' caused by the presence of lead paint. The court ordered three lead paint companies that sold and marketed lead paint to families despite knowledge of the health dangers to remove lead paint and lead-based paint hazards from all pre-1951 homes in 10 counties."  Wait!

  • The case only covers the cities of Alameda, Los Angeles, Monterey, Oakland, San Diego, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Solano and Ventura California, and

  • This decision will be appealed, so that we're not at the end of litigation.

The case was filed in 2000 against three lead paint manufacturers: NL Industries Inc. (Dutch Boy brand), The Sherwin-Williams Company and ConAgra Grocery Products. The case has been working its way through the courts for 17 years. Still, there are some important features of the decision.

  • The Appeals Court reduced the scope of the complaint to pre-1951 houses instead of pre-1978 homes.

  • The court upheld the plaintiff's claim based the legal principle of "public nuisance." According to the LA Times "...the judges upheld the plaintiffs’ argument that the marketing of lead paint created a 'public nuisance' — a doctrine commonly applied to landlords operating drug dens or factories with noxious emissions, but seldom on broad environmental grounds."

   Previous lawsuits, like Rhode Island's 1990 case, failed because the manufacturers claimed that they had no control over how their product was used. The California case relies on new evidence that the companies did know of the risk and promoted the product for indoor residential use.



April 24, 2017 Three stories this past week underscore the "existential" threat to lead poisoning programs.
Only one of the stories provides a pathway to success in the face of proposed EPA budget cuts and an outmoded "poisoned child" approach to prevention.
  • Living on Earth suggests fighting as hard as we can in Congress to prevent budget cuts and then no plan B.
  • "Hundreds more lead hotspots are identified as Trump prepares to gut programs. Part 2 of An ongoing Reuters investigation has found another 449 areas around the U.S. with lead exposure rates double those found in Flint. But cities across the country say pending federal budget cuts could imperil efforts to eradicate the toxic metal."
  • Nonprofit Quarterly proposes fighting as hard as we can in Congress for as much as we can get for existing programs, and then investing local tax dollars in remdediation and shifting to a system of primary prevention supported by property owner testing and compliance. If's not a matter of if...but when Cleveland and Ohio will come to their senses and stop blaming those "bad" politicians in DC.


Placed in a poisoned home by DC homeless program.
     A year ago a story like this in the WashPo would have triggered HUD into action--requiring PHAs and Rapid Rehousing providers to do lead safe clearances as a part of the Housing Choice Voucher and Rapid Rehousing programs.  Today in Trumpville...don't hold your breath. Instead, local advocates and housing providers should begin pestering your local housing authorities to 
1. require landlords to submit lead disclosure forms and 
2. require  inspections to include dust wipes by a licensed lead clearance techs and don't send your clients to untested homes. 
Or, wait til your read this story in your hometown newspaper.
     From the article: "The tragedy exposes key weaknesses in federal guidelines followed by the District and other cities to ensure safe housing for homeless families, especially those with young children, according to interviews with five housing advocates and experts. Instead of specifically testing for lead or asthma-inducing mold, D.C. inspectors following the guidelines visually check for peeling paint and deteriorating conditions. To help a property pass an inspection, some landlords simply apply a fresh coat of paint and “it looks good for one day,” said Kathy Zeisel of the Children’s Law Center. 'If there’s moisture, it starts peeling right away.' ”
     PS: a blood lead level of 120 mg/dl is 24 times greater than the CDC action level. 

July 29, 2016 Rooflines Our Denial and Inaction On the Issue of Lead How far does the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) denial about leaded drinking water go? 

July 20, 2016 NBC News, Lead Rules Provide Only an 'Illusion of Safety,' Pediatricians Say
Lead standards are not protecting children and doctors need to do more to help prevent kids from getting contaminated in the first place, the top pediatricians' group said Monday

 June 15, 2016 Lead risk for 1 in 7 children in the US
     While overall lead poisoning in the US is declining, "hot spots" remain and Ohio is one of the states leading the leaders of the pack. 
     Washington Post reports "In one city after another, the tests showed startling numbers of children with unsafe blood lead levels: Poughkeepsie and Syracuse and Buffalo. Erie and Reading. Cleveland and Cincinnati." The article continues: "In certain regions of the country, including parts of New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio, more than 1 in 7 children tested for elevated levels of lead in their blood. Minnesota had the highest overall rate of young children with disturbing blood lead levels, at 10.3 percent. That was followed by Pennsylvania (7.8 percent), Kentucky (7.1 percent), Ohio (7 percent) and Connecticut (6.7 percent)."
      When does news like this become a call to action for the General Assembly and the Governor? Right now the only state dollars spent on lead poisoning come from penalties levied by the ODH.
      RHINO would be remiss in failing to note a couple bright spots.

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