The federal government has fought the scourge of lead poisoning since before the passage of the Residential Lead-Based Paint Hazard Reduction Act of 1992. The government began to eliminated lead in gasoline in 1973 and banned the use of lead-based paint in residential housing in 1978. States have been tracking lead poisoned children and remediated homes even before the Residential Lead-Based Paint Hazard Reduction Act was adopted, as have local governments. New York City banned the use of lead-based paint in apartments in 1960. Massachusetts and Maryland required the inspection and abatement of certain housing in the 1980s to limit lead poisonings.
These efforts have greatly reduced lead poisonings. Dramatic reductions in blood lead levels have occurred between 1980 and 1991, and continued to drop. The complete elimination of elevated blood lead levels, however, remains a stubborn goal.
About 3.6 million U.S. households have children under the age of 6 years who live in homes with lead exposure hazards. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 500,000 children in the U.S. between the ages of 1 and 5 years have elevated blood lead levels above 5 µg/dL, the level at which CDC recommends public health actions.
As National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week (NLPPW) begins, the struggle to eliminate lead poisoning is far from over. Lead-based paint remains in older homes, lead from gasolines still is found in soils, lead is used in consumer foods and medicines, and over 6.1 million homes use leaded pipes in their water service lines.
NLPPW brings together individuals, organizations, industry, and state, tribal, and local governments to increase lead poisoning prevention awareness in an effort to reduce childhood exposure to lead. NLPPW highlights the many ways parents can reduce children’s exposure to lead in their environment and prevent its serious health effects. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA), and CDC are the foremost federal agencies involved with lead poisoning awareness by providing resources to state and local governments and encouraging preventive actions during NLPPW and beyond.
The problem with lead is that even at the lowest levels, lead can be harmful to children. Lead exposure affects the brain’s ability to control impulses and process information. As a result, lead continues to harm millions of children, particularly those in low-income communities and those of color because of their disproportionate risk of exposure to sources of lead in older homes.
- Reduce lead in drinking water in homes built before 1986 and other places children frequent.
- Remove leaded drinking water service lines from the homes of children.
- Eradicate lead paint hazards from older homes where low-income families reside.
- Ensure that contractors comply with the U.S. EPA rule that requires lead-safe renovation, repair, and painting practices.
- Reduce lead in food and consumer products.
Removing lead from drinking water service lines could protect more than 350,000 children from lead hazards. Eliminating lead-based paint hazards from older homes of low-income families could protect 311,000 children. Ensuring contractors comply with the U.S. EPA Lead Renovation, Repair, and Painting rule could protect 211,000 children.
NEHA is also hosting an upcoming webinar on lead in private water supplies. The next Private Water Network Flash Webinar Series: Corrosive Water, Lead, and Copper in Private Water Supplies will take place on October 26 at 2:00 p.m. EDT. The webinar will discuss corrosive water as a common water quality problem occurring in water wells, springs. and cisterns. The webinar will also discuss how corrosive water, lead, and copper are measured; how frequently they occur; and how they can be managed in private drinking water sources.
Doug Farquhar is the director of Government Affairs at the National Environmental Health Association in Denver, Colorado.