Moral Low Ground


Budget Cuts Put US Children at Elevated Risk of Lead Poisoning

At a time when hundreds of thousands of US children are suffering from lead poisoning, budget cuts mean there are fewer resources available to deal with the problem.

Earlier this month, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimated that more than 500,000 US children are believed to have lead poisoning. One out of every 38 children are believed to suffer from the debilitating and potentially deadly ailment, and the poor are disproportionately affected.

Children often get lead poisoning from living in old homes in which lead paint was used. Contaminated soil and drinking water and industrial lead dust also sicken children, who breathe or swallow lead particles. The heavy metal can damage children’s brains, kidneys, and other organs. Elevated levels of lead in the blood can lead to reduced intelligence, hearing impairment and behavioral and other problems.

While the alarming number of children believed to be suffering from lead poisoning has experts calling for more testing and preventive measures, federal budget cuts in 2012 drastically reduced funding for such programs. Last March, the New York Times reported that the CDC’s lead poisoning and prevention programs budget was slashed from $29 million to $2 million.

“The programs that states run to prevent lead poisoning and respond to children with elevated blood [lead] levels will be eliminated,” warned Rebecca Morley, executive director of the National Center for Healthy Housing.

In the past week, lead testing and lead poisoning prevention budget cuts once again made headlines in Detroit and Erie, Pennsylvania, where children diagnosed with lead poisoning will no longer have their cases managed by the county health department due to the cuts.

As is often the case, poor, minority children are particularly affected by both lead poisoning and the detrimental consequences of budget cuts.

“Persistent differences between the mean [blood lead levels] of different racial/ethnic and income groups can be traced to differences in housing quality, environmental conditions, nutrition, and other factors,” the CDC stated.

David Rosner, a Columbia University public health historian and lead poisoning expert, told the Associated Press that the budget cuts amount to “an abandonment of children.”

“We’ve been acting like the problem was solved and this was a thing of the past,” he added.

Environmental scientist Ben Williams and Sevenson Environmental Services, Inc. provided Moral Low Ground with this infographic, titled “Lead It All Hang Out: A Dangerous Metal,” concerning the nationwide lead contamination problem:

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