Recently, John Oliver of HBO’s Last Week Tonight, reminded America that lead poisoning goes far beyond Flint (we wrote about the tragedy back in January). In fact, Flint is merely a drop in the bucket of the estimated 2,000 contaminated water systems, found in all 50 states.
However, there exists another danger, the walls in the homes of America.
A survey done in 2011 reported that more than 2.1 million homes have a lead dust hazard and a child younger than 6 years old; and a child only really needs to ingest a tiny amount of lead to cause their blood lead level to rise. This rise can lead to brain damage, decreased social skills, and even death. Sadly, the CDC estimates that there are 535,000 children in the US, under 6, with elevated blood lead levels.
In the US, lead use was promoted throughout the 20th century and while other countries banned its use as early as the 1920s, we didn’t become aware of the danger until the 70s. At that point lead paint, leaded gas and other lead-based products were banned but there was never any clean up done- the paint wasn’t taken off the walls nor were the pipes taken out of the ground.
So, if we want to get the paint off the walls and the pipes out of the ground, how do we do that? Well, a study from 2000 estimated that it would cost $16.6 billion dollars a YEAR, over the course of a decade, just to remove the paint. While that would be great for job growth, the government doesn’t allocate money like that for lead removal and funding has been steadily decreasing for the last 15 years. In fact, the decline in funding has continued despite studies that have shown just how much we could save on medical expenses should cleanup take place; a study from 2009 found that each dollar spent in lead paint hazard control would yield a return of $17 to $221. And yet, we do nothing.
While lawmakers are “outraged”, many have called for the governor of Michigan to resignation, and President Obama is on his way there to meet with the community, the only real reason that anything has been done is because someone made a loud enough stink. The real proof will be to see what has happened in another two years, when it’s “out of sight, out of mind”. The fear of lead poisoning isn’t something on the mind of many legislators, and few will move to devote funding to an issue that almost exclusively impacts the lower classes. Make them drink the water– as in that’s their only option– and watch how fast they move toward solutions OR have many, many more people die and the cries of the masses will be loud enough for them to pay attention.