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Stand Up and Be Counted in the Fight Against Lead Poisoning



Lead poisoning—you know, it seems like we should’ve had this problem licked by now.

Every year, we (NCHH and our partners) get out and stomp the figurative pavement, reminding people—parents, teachers, doctors, members of Congress, the President—that lead is still a very real and dangerous problem. And every year, despite our best efforts, more kids are exposed to lead. This year, we heard of a city (Flint, Michigan) that was exposed to dangerous levels of lead in its water.

All of this despite the fact we’ve known lead was poisonous for over 100 years and despite the fact that lead-based paint was banned in the U.S. back in 1978. That's nearly 40 years ago. The banning of lead-based paint in homes was a major victory, but the war rages on: While no new lead-based paint is being manufactured for residential use here in the United States, lead is still being used in other types of paint. Meanwhile, the lead-based paint that exists in older homes continues to disintegrate into poisonous dust. Lead exposure also comes from aging pipes entering homes and schools, from soil, and in consumer products.

According to Dr. David Jacobs, NCHH's Chief Scientist, "Lead is […] one of the best studied toxic substances that we know of. It’s one of the metals that you don’t need in your body; it has no useful biological value whatsoever. It creates a range of effects [including] neurodevelopmental effects for children at an early age, but it also causes cancer, kidney disease, and many other adverse health effects."

Today, there are still over 500,000 children with elevated blood lead levels in the U.S. Untold numbers of adults—possibly in the millions—struggle daily with the lifelong consequences of their own childhood lead exposure: decreased IQ and cognitive function, developmental delays, and behavioral problems. It’s both unfortunate and unacceptable for any child to be harmed by lead exposure, yet it continues to happen every day, regardless of race, creed, color, or social strata, though children of color and those living in low-income housing have been affected most.

Advocacy groups, philanthropic organizations, and federal, state, and local governments have done much to educate the public about lead hazards—a herculean task. NCHH and its allies in this war on lead poisoning have also made great progress over the last 40-plus years. The studies we and our partners have done, the research we’ve provided, the articles we’ve written, and our advocacy efforts have resulted in a significant reduction in the number of Americans with elevated blood lead levels, as well as medical treatment for those affected. We’re proud of our work, and we’re proud of all the others who’ve joined us in the fight.

Now we need for you to join us as well, and we need you today. NCHH and the National Safe and Healthy Housing Coalition have just created a petition entitled “Tell Congress to End Lead Poisoning Now” that outlines a comprehensive strategy to end lead poisoning within five years.

Take a few minutes to check out the petition. Now we want you to sign it. Yes, YOU. And then we want everyone you know to sign it as well, which means that we need you to share it with people you know and ask them to share it too. Sign it, share it, and change the world—just a little.

Some of you have probably already signed the petition. You read the title and said, “I’m IN!” (Thank you!) Maybe you’re in because someone in your family has been exposed to lead. Maybe there’s lead in your house or apartment right now, and you don’t have the money you need to make your home safe once and for all. Or maybe you know someone down the street, one street over, or someone who goes to school with your kids, who’s been touched in some way by lead poisoning. Maybe you know someone who’s sitting in jail, and you think that maybe his or her life would be completely different right now if only they hadn’t been exposed to lead.

But maybe you haven’t gotten around to signing the petition just yet. We know that some of you are thinking, I don’t know anyone with this problem or This isn’t really a problem for me. But it really is. Whether or not we realize it, we’re all affected by lead poisoning:
  • Because families move into older homes every day.
  • Because children attend older schools every day.
  • Because some kid visits his or her grandparents’ home every day.
  • Because water flows through old pipes every single day.
  • And because lead poisoning can lead to learning disabilities, impulse control issues, and violent behavior, we pay tax money to fund educational services, law enforcement efforts and the judicial system to fix lead-related problems after they’ve happened. 
We want to tell Congress to invest more in the system upfront so that problems don’t happen. It’s a sound investment in our collective future: The return on investment for lead poisoning prevention is estimated at no less than $17 for every $1 spent.

As NCHH’s David Jacobs and Amanda Reddy commented in a recent editorial, lead poisoning is preventable, and we know how to prevent it; but our investment has to be more widespread and sustained.

Help us tell Congress that it is time to end childhood lead poisoning. Won’t you help us to reach our goal of 20,000 signatures? Stand up and be counted: Please sign the petition right away and share it with your friends, associates, and family.

Both House and Senate Move to Increase HUD Lead Hazard Control Funding

Thanks to all of you who called your senators last week to urge them to pass the HUD funding bill! The bill did pass the Senate, with $50 million in funding increases for lead hazard control, half of which will go to HUD’s Office of Lead Hazard Control and Healthy Homes (OLHCHH) – raising their budget to $135 million – and half for lead hazard control in public housing.  

Similarly, the House appropriations committee just passed a House funding bill that also increases HUD’s OLHCHH budget – to $130 million, an increase of $20 million. Both bills also provide level funding for CDBG and HOME and allow continued assistance to all households currently served by HUD programs, with some targeted increases. We'll need your help over the summer and fall to ensure that these lead hazard control funding increases are enacted at the Senate level.

Of course, this is only a fraction of the funding needed to eliminate lead poisoning, but it's a strong step forward in an austere budget environment. To help us press for more funding, sign up for the Find It, Fix It, Fund It campaign and/or register for our Find it, Fix it, Fund It webinar rollout meeting tomorrow (1 p.m. EDT).

We thank Chairman Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL-25) of the HUD appropriations subcommittee for working closely with ranking members Representative Nita Lowey (D-NY-17) and Representative David Price (D-NC-4) to increase spending on lead hazard control. All three brought the issue up as a key success of the bill at the markup hearing today.

I was able to thank them personally and urge you to thank you them too by tweeting:

@MarioDB thank you for increasing @HUDgov #lead hazard control funding and protecting America's children!
@NitaLowey thank you for increasing @HUDgov #lead hazard control funding and protecting America's children!
@RepDavidEPrice thank you for increasing @HUDgov #lead hazard control funding and protecting America's children!


Here are additional highlights from the Senate bill in which Chairman Susan Collins (R-ME) and Ranking Member Jack Reed (D-RI) crafted numerous policy changes to improve lead poisoning prevention! The new bill will accomplish the following:
  • Provides more resources to the Office of Lead Hazard Control and Healthy Homes ($25 million) and lead hazard control in public housing ($25 million). 
  • Allows lead hazard control grants to serve zero-bedroom units for the first time.
  • Requires HUD to align its blood lead level standard with CDC’s (changing the standard from 20 μg/dL to 5 μg/dL).
  • Doubles the staffing at the Office of Lead Hazard Control and Healthy Homes’ Enforcement Division.
  • Also: Increases funding for Section 202 Housing for the Elderly program and the Section 811 Housing for People with Disabilities program, and homeless assistance programs.
Thanks for all you do, and don’t forget to join the next full National Safe and Healthy Housing Coalition webinar on June 7, which will include a panel on Healthy Housing for Older Adults!

NCHH and Coalition Campaign on Capitol Hill

As African refugees who immigrated to Rhode Island in 2007 to start a new life, Teddi Jallow and her husband were excited and proud when they were able to become homeowners and achieve a piece of the American dream; but she was also worried about the safety of young family they were starting. They’d invested all of their savings in an older home in Rhode Island, one that they now suspected might contain lead hazards, and had no funds left over to correct the hazard. Thankfully, the City of Providence’s HUD-funded lead remediation grant program enabled this vulnerable family to address potential lead hazards proactively and protect their children’s health.

Ms. Jallow shared her story with members of Congress on February 10, when National Safe and Healthy Housing Coalition (Coalition) members and National Center for Healthy Housing (NCHH) staff took to Capitol Hill for a full day of meetings with senators and representatives to highlight the vital need for full funding for lead poisoning prevention, lead hazard control, and healthy homes, particularly in the wake of the Flint water crisis. Ms. Jallow met with Senator Jack Reed (D, RI), Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D, RI), and Representative David Cicilline (D, RI-1) to explained how a HUD-funded remediation grant from the City of Providence made it possible for her family to afford the necessary home improvements that have kept her children lead-free.

Betty and James Cantley of Cleveland, Ohio, had a very different tale to tell. Their son, Jason,
Betty Cantley with her sons, circa 1994. Jason Cantley is sitting in the baby seat.suffered permanent injury from lead dust exposure as an infant, the result of a contractor renovation that failed to meet lead safety requirements. The Cantleys described their family’s continuing journey with lead poisoning. “[When Jason] started breathing it in,” Betty told the members and their staff, “he was less than a month old; his brain was developing, and his synapses were forming. It was the most crucial point of his life.” Betty’s and James’ compelling story describes the struggles of a family faced with the news that their son was needlessly exposed to dangerous levels of lead dust, how they coped, how essential programs at all governmental levels helped their boy to graduate from high school, and how Jason has become a productive member of society despite facing daily challenges stemming from his early lead exposure.

The Cantleys and Ms. Jallow were among the 27 attendees, hailing from 12 target states and the District of Columbia, who joined NCHH Executive Director Nancy Rockett Eldridge, Director of Policy Julie Kruse, Director of Research Jonathan Wilson, and Project Manager Laura Fudala on Capitol Hill to present to over 80 senators and representatives, more than doubling the number of offices visited in 2015—itself a highly successful campaign. Their purpose was to share their personal stories and educate members of Congress on the importance and impact of lead poisoning prevention, lead hazard control, and healthy homes programs for their constituents’ respective states and districts as the members soon consider and make critical funding decisions.

Members of Congress from both parties were strongly supportive of the Coalition’s requests to increase funding to expand CDC’s lead poisoning surveillance, prevention, and healthy homes activities nationwide. Funding at $35 million for CDC’s Healthy Homes and Lead Poisoning Prevention Program would support lead poisoning surveillance activities in all 50 states and greatly enhance abilities to identify and respond quickly to future lead poisoning outbreaks.

Further, families of children with elevated blood lead levels, representatives of housing and health agencies, and concerned advocates demanded that Congress take a proactive approach for primary prevention, calling for $230 million annually over 10 years for HUD’s Office of Lead Hazard Control and Healthy Homes. This amount was recommended by the President's Task Force on Environmental Health Risks and Safety Risks to Children in its Federal Strategy Targeting Lead Paint Hazards to ensure that lead hazards are identified and controlled in low-income homes.

Due to governmental belt-tightening over the last several years, funding to these HUD and CDC programs was cut drastically. Some of the funding has been partially restored, and Coalition members thanked Congress for increasing lead poisoning prevention, healthy homes, and asthma control by $3 million last year. By sharing local stories, attendees pointed to the benefits and cost savings of prevention. Lead poisoning is a preventable tragedy, said Coalition members, as they urged Congress to restore full funding to stop the harm to America’s children. Other highlights of the day included:

  • Lenora Smith and other representatives from the Partnership Effort for the Advancement of Children’s Health (PEACH) of Durham, North Carolina, met for an hour with Representative David Price (D, NC-4) to update him on home health hazards in his district. They also thanked Representative Price for offering two amendments to increase healthy homes and lead hazard control funding, and for discussing PEACH’s efforts in Durham combating lead poisoning at a hearing last year.
  • Other attendees described the prevention and hazard control services in their homes states that have helped promote health, elevate their communities, and protect families.
  • Congresswoman Louise Slaughter (D, NY-25) and her staff hosted a breakfast orientation to launch the day, and attendees appreciated the opportunity to thank her for her long-time championing of healthy homes issues in Congress.
  • Attendees from Rhode Island and New Hampshire also thanked Senator Jack Reed (D-RI), Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), and Representative David Cicilline (D, RI-1) for leading sign-on letters, and Representative Slaughter for increased funding for lead poisoning prevention and healthy homes. Mainers also expressed gratitude to Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) for her long-standing support for ending lead poisoning, and her supportive comments at a hearing last year.

Results from the Coalition’s Hill visit were immediately apparent in the large increase of signatories to this year’s congressional sign-on letters:

  • 75 representatives signed on to Representative Slaughter and Representative Cicilline’s letter to increase funding for lead poisoning prevention and healthy homes (51 more than last year).
  • 24 senators signed on to Senator Reed’s and/or Senator Shaheen’s letters to increase funding for lead poisoning prevention and healthy homes (5 more than last year).

NCHH and the National Safe and Healthy Housing Coalition wish to thank the Childhood Lead Action Project, the Green and Healthy Homes Initiative, Habitat for Humanity International, and Rebuilding Together for helping to staff this successful day! 

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