A big thank you to Last Week Tonight with John Oliver on HBO, which aired a smart and thought-provoking piece that focused on lead poisoning in America on April 17th, 2016. John Oliver’s analysis was both hilarious and horrifying. Aside from the humor, there were two key points everyone should take away:
- There is no safe level of lead in a child’s system (or anyone’s system for that matter).
- It is far more cost effective to fund abatement and prevention programs than to treat the host of health problems associated with lead poisoning.
While this information is not new, John Oliver delivered it in a way that should change people’s understanding of this issue. The horrific crisis in Flint, Michigan, brought renewed exposure to this issue and what can happen when those elected to protect its citizens fail to do so. Beyond Flint, Oliver illuminated the startling fact that significant lead hazards still exist in the homes of over 24 million Americans.
While making those homes safe is expensive, funding lead abatement programs is an efficient use of public money. In fact, each dollar invested in lead paint hazard control results in a return of $17 – $221. At the same time, we also need to invest more in addressing other home health hazards like asbestos, carbon monoxide and asthma triggers like mold.
Even minimal exposure to lead is linked to higher rates of learning disabilities, hyperactivity, diminished IQ, hearing and memory loss as well as aggressive and violent behavior. Lead poisoning can lead to a lifetime of other health problems such as cardiovascular disease, kidney problems and reproductive issues – just to name a few. The effects of lead poisoning are irreversible, yet it is entirely preventable.
Despite the decades of ongoing advocacy effort and substantial success in lowering the number of children impacted by lead, communities across the country still struggle to contain lead poisoning. Today, more than half a million children under the age of 6 have dangerous levels of lead.
We hope coverage such as John Oliver’s will spur not only interest but action. A good start would be to fully fund programs at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of Healthy Homes and Lead Hazard Control, which has consistently been underfunded and unable to meet the full need nationally. A minimum of $250 million each year for five years has great potential to make meaningful progress.
If we, as a country commit to a well-funded coordinated strategy we can end childhood lead poisoning as a major public health threat. Our children are well worth the investment, together we can work to ensure that everyone has a safe and healthy place to call home.