Recently, there has been a renewed and important focus on lead poisoning and its toxic legacy that has undermined generations of American children. This heightened awareness has been brought on by the horrific stories out of Flint, Michigan and the life of Freddie Gray in Baltimore. City after city, state after state have realized this is a national issue that requires renewed and urgent attention.
To deliver on the promise of ending this tragic, costly and entirely preventable problem – we need an updated national strategy and commitment – one that is audacious, ambitious and achievable.
As we advance this work, the one thing we should not do is blame the very agencies that have stood out as leaders in the effort. A recent op-ed in the New York Times raised reasonable areas for improving regulations and guidelines on lead poisoning prevention at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). HUD itself has acknowledged these issues need to be reviewed and updated. But the headline writers and other media outlets got one thing wrong: HUD is not to blame for the country’s ongoing lead epidemic. In fact, HUD has lead federal efforts to actually invest in the one cure for lead poisoning – primary prevention. And its current Secretary, Julian Castro, is deeply committed to the overarching goal of ending lead poisoning by expanding HUD’s efforts and the efforts of other federal agencies.
A long history of misguided policies and practices has fueled the nation’s burden of lead poisoning. It includes our failure to ban lead-based paint in housing in 1922 when most every other developed country in the world did so, waiting until the 1970s to ban lead in gasoline and waiting until the 1980s to ban lead solder in our water lines. Mistakes also include failures of housing code enforcement and a lack of protection of low-income renters, inadequate investment in lead removal and a failure to adopt stronger lead-prevention policies.
The Green & Healthy Homes Initiative is proud to work closely with HUD and other federal partners to advance lead poisoning prevention. We are equally committed to calling on these partners to make advancements in improving our policies, investments and protections for our children and families.