To Advance Health and Opportunity, Congress Must Act to End Lead’s Toxic Legacy
By: Ruth Ann Norton, President and CEO of Green & Healthy Homes Initiative
Our homes should protect kids, not poison them. A home that is free of dangerous toxic materials is fundamental to our nation’s promise of health and opportunity. Over half a million children continue to be poisoned by lead in their homes every year, leaving them with irreversible brain damage that impairs them for the rest of their lives. In fact, lead paint and dust from the home environment remains the largest and primary source of lead poisoning. Yet, it is entirely preventable.
This tragedy has been unfolding for decades. Its toxic legacy has literally robbed generations of children, predominantly Black and brown children in low-wealth communities, of reaching their full potential in the classroom and in life. Congress has the opportunity to end it now. As part of the reconciliation bill currently under consideration, federal lawmakers can and must protect the $5 billion allocated for remediation of the primary cause of lead poisoning, household paint, and create healthier home environments.
Children poisoned by lead are seven times more likely to drop out of school and have a 46% higher risk of early mortality. That alone should be a call to action. Lead poisoning undermines health, education and economic opportunities. Preventing it is far cheaper than the after the fact health and societal costs. According to JAMA Pediatrics, 50% of American children have detectable blood lead levels, revealing an astonishing reality given that we have the power to protect our children.
Compared to adults, infants and young children absorb about four to five times more of the lead that enters their bodies. But lead has serious and irreversible health consequences for us all and continues to enter our bloodstreams silently. For children and adults alike, prolonged exposure damages the brain and nervous system, reduces fertility, and increases the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, kidney disease and even cancer. According to the Centers for Disease Control, there is no safe level of exposure.
Lead poisoning is also an environmental justice issue. Research has revealed that low-income and African American households are at far greater risk of lead exposure. Black children are almost three times more likely than white children to have elevated blood lead levels. A recent study shows that race is a bigger risk factor for lead poisoning than poverty or poor-quality housing.
Although lead removal has been discussed for decades, the level of investment has remained far below the scale of the problem. We have long known the scale of the problem, who it impacts and how to fix it. Today, we have the opportunity to end lead’s toxic legacy—and we must.
The Biden-Harris Administration has put the issue in the national spotlight and I applaud the much-needed plan to replace lead pipes as part of national infrastructure fixes. But that alone won’t remedy the problem for our children. In over 80% of all lead poisoning cases, paint exposure is the primary cause. Let’s not wait to address lead, while millions more children are unnecessarily and irreversibly poisoned in the next decade alone. And while communities already facing the greatest disparities—especially Black and brown communities—continue to be disregarded and irretrievably harmed.
Ending lead poisoning is one of the most transformational and tangible investments they can make to address health, racial equity and opportunity. I urge Congress to protect the $5 billion in the upcoming reconciliation package to remediate the primary cause of lead poisoning, and be remembered as the leaders who ended this toxic legacy once and for all.
For media inquiries:
Ruth Ann Norton
President and CEO
Green & Healthy Homes Initiative
410-534-6477 (Office Direct)
Senior Vice President of National Programs
Green & Healthy Homes Initiative