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Outraged, Obligated, & Optimistic

David Dyjack, DrPH, CIH

I'm outraged. And you should be too. Lead, Liberia, and Listeria—in the news. What do they have in common? Unnecessary loss of life, squandered human potential, and expensive fixes. Each represents a basic environmental health challenge that suggests those of us in the risk reduction and health promotion business failed miserably. This is no time for finger pointing, though I am sorely tempted. Conversely, I do want to harness my disappointment and frustration and direct it toward solutions. Let's start with the tragic story of Freddie Gray.

Mr. Gray's arrest and death recently gave rise to civil disturbance in Baltimore, Maryland. Over 200 adults and 30 juveniles were arrested while 20 police officers were injured during just one night's violence. The Baltimore mayor's office reported the city's fire department responded to fires in 144 vehicles and 15 buildings. If this chaos and human tragedy were not enough, an article in the Washington Post reported that during his youth Mr. Gray suffered from residential environmental lead exposures leading to blood lead levels of 37 ?g/dL. As a point of reference, blood lead levels above 5 ?g/dL are believed to lead to diminished cognitive function, among other poor life outcomes. We may never know if this elevated dose at a young age predisposed him to behavior that led to his incarceration. Nonetheless the deck was stacked against him. Why wasn't this well-known environmental hazard abated long ago?

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Journal of Environmental Health
Volume 78, No 1 July/August 2015