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Threats or Promises: Which Way for the Trump Administration on Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention?

Recent news articles suggest that Trump’s EPA hopes to drastically cut funding and staff for its lead poisoning prevention programs ("EPA Memo Outlines Plans to Defund Lead-Paint Program," in Remodeling, April 4; and "Trump’s EPA Moves to Dismantle Programs that Protect Kids from Lead Paint," in The Washington Post, April 5). This follows on the heels of a high-level meeting between the EPA’s new administrator, Scott Pruitt, and the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB). NAHB complained about so-called “excessive” regulations, specifically EPA’s Renovation, Repair, and Painting (RRP) Rule

But it was exactly inadequate regulations that led to the Flint crisis and others like it, such as the East Chicago disaster in Indiana, the vice-president’s home state.
 
The fact is that congressional action and regulations have worked: Blood lead levels in the nation’s children have been greatly reduced  as a result of the implementation of statutes and regulations (see "U.S. Policies vs. Children's Average Blood Lead Levels" below). When we as a nation mandated the removal of lead from food canning, gasoline, new residential paint, plumbing and other sources, all through regulations, it worked. If anything, the regulations should be strengthened, not weakened, because over half a million children still have blood lead levels above the CDC reference value.1 

Some industries have supported these regulations over the years,2 but a few others have actively opposed them.3 Most recently for example, the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) wants the EPA’s RRP regulation restricted to only pre-1960 housing, even though lead paint was not banned (by regulation) until 1978. They want “training” of their contractors to be only online, when in fact construction contractors don’t really learn that way. They want a new cost-benefit analysis, even though many previous studies have already shown that the benefits far outweigh the costs.4, 5 NAHB already succeeded in previous years in eliminating a dust testing requirement that has existed for years in federally assisted housing rehab work with scientifically proven positive results.6 (Children’s blood lead levels in assisted housing are lower than in non-assisted low-income housing, and dust testing [dust is one of the main ways children are exposed] is the major reason why). NAHB should protect the interests of its members by ensuring that homes are safe, not cutting corners and weakening laws and regulations that, if anything, need to be strengthened. And it should work to ensure that its member contractors don’t inadvertently do sloppy work that can cost $100,000 per house to clean up.7

Furthermore, preventing childhood lead poisoning not only protects children, it will create at least 75,000 good-paying jobs.8

During his campaign, the president promised to fix things that don’t work right. What better example is there that lead poisoning needs to be fixed than the 24 million homes that still have lead paint hazards, or the 6-10 million homes that still have lead water pipes? The solution is not to weaken regulations or to cut budgets but to strengthen them, putting the resources in place to end this preventable disease. Lead problems are a sign of our crumbling infrastructure, something the president also vowed to fix. We think that an infrastructure bill should include lead poisoning prevention. 

At HUD, the new Secretary, Dr. Ben Carson, promised to “enhance” lead poisoning prevention and healthy housing, proposing to increase the budget for that program from $110 million to $130 million. But at the same time, the proposed HUD budget wipes out the multi-billion-dollar Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program. Many local jurisdictions use CDBG to provide their local “match” funding, anywhere from 10% - 25%, for lead hazard control. So, even though the proposed increased funding for the lead program is welcome, it appears that with the CDBG proposed elimination, the net effect will reduce, not increase, the total HUD resources to protect our children from lead poisoning. Why give with one hand only to take away more with the other? 

The National Safe and Healthy Housing Coalition has produced a number of recommendations that will protect our children

We urge the new administration and the new Congress to act on those recommendations to improve (not weaken) regulations and to propose a budget that will get the job done.

Instead of paying over $50 billion a year for lead poisoning, let’s solve the problem, not eliminate EPA programs or reduce HUD funding. At its beginning, the Flint fiasco was supposedly an attempt to save money, and NAHB’s wishes sound just like that, don’t they? We cannot afford another Flint, and we cannot afford to continue to pay the high costs of needlessly poisoned children. In Flint and across the nation, we will now spend far more now than had we acted to solve the problem in the first place. And we do know how to solve it. We should act on what we know, put our people to work, protect our children, and stop wasting money by caving in to a few narrow short-sighted industries at the expense of the rest of us.





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1 Wheeler, W., & Brown, M. J. (2013, April 5). Blood lead levels in children aged 1–5 years — United States, 1999–2010. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), 62(13), 245-248. Retrieved April 6, 2017, from https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6213a3.htm

2 National Safe and Healthy Housing Coalition. (2016). Declaration of the Lead and Environmental Hazards Association. Retrieved April 6, 2017, from  http://www.nchh.org//Portals/0/Contents/LEHA_Declaration_2016.pdf 

3 Jacobs, D. E. (2016 July-August). Lead poisoning: Focusing on the fix. Journal of Public Health Management and Practice, 22(4):326-330. doi: 10.1097/PHH.0000000000000430. Retrieved from http://journals.lww.com/jphmp/Citation/2016/07000/Lead_Poisoning___Focusing_on_the_Fix.2.aspx
   
4 Gould, E. (2009, July). Childhood lead poisoning: Conservative estimates of the social and economic benefits of lead hazard control. Environmental Health Perspectives, 117(7), 1162-1167. Retrieved April 6, 2017, from https://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/wp-content/uploads/117/7/ehp.0800408.pdf

5 Nevin, R., Jacobs, D. E., Berg, M., & Cohen, J. (2008, March). Monetary benefits of preventing childhood lead poisoning with lead-safe window replacement, Environmental Research, 106(3), 410-419. Retrieved April 6, 2017, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17961540
 
6 Ahrens, K. A., Haley, B. A., Rossen, L. M., Lloyd, P. C., & Aoki, Y. (2016, November). Housing assistance and blood lead levels: Children in the United States, 2005-2012. American Journal of Public Health, 106(11), 2049-2056. Retrieved April 6, 2017, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27631737
 
7 Jacobs, D. E., Mielke, H., & Pavur, N. (2003, February). The high cost of improper removal of lead-based paint from housing: A case report. Environmental Health Perspectives, 111(2), 185-186. from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1241348/
 
8 National Center for Healthy Housing & National Safe and Healthy Housing Coalition (2017, February). Find It, Fix It, Fund It: A lead elimination action drive: Policy recommendations to Congress and the new administration. Retrieved April 6, 2017, from http://bit.ly/FFFAdmin

9 Jacobs, D., & Weinberg, A. (2017, February 22). Infrastructure and mortgages: What about the kids? National Center for Healthy Housing website. Retrieved April 6, 2017, from http://bit.ly/Infra_Kids



Dr. David Jacobs, former Director of the Lead Poisoning Prevention Program at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, is the Chief Scientist for the National Center for Healthy Housing and an adjunct professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health

Infrastructure and Mortgages: What about the Kids?


During the 2016 election season, Donald Trump (the Republican presidential nominee, now president) proposed spending $1 trillion dollars on infrastructure to put people to work and rebuild the sinews of the nation. Democrats have also called for infrastructure improvements. Those improvements must include making our homes and schools safe for our children. In its recent (January 2) editorial, "Housing that Ruins Your Finances and Your Health," The New York Times wrote, “One solution would be for Fannie Mae to eliminate dangerous lead conditions in foreclosed homes.” But lead requirements are antiquated or nonexistent not only at Fannie Mae but also at Freddie Mac and HUD’s FHA single-family mortgage insurance program. These federal housing programs are the only ones that were not reformed back in 1999 and are long overdue to be fixed.

In years past, both parties worked together to reduce childhood lead poisoning. But Flint is only the tip of the iceberg, and parents of lead-poisoned children are demanding that we do more to put a stop to the needless suffering. Lead poisoning costs us an estimated $50 billion annually for healthcare, substandard school performance, and lost work productivity (2008 dollars).1 The real tragedy is that we know how to fix lead hazards. The disasters in Flint and elsewhere could have been prevented and will now cost much more than if we had made the necessary upfront investments and reforms. The inadequate lead requirements at FHA, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac should comply with HUD lead-safe housing regulations, but they currently do not.

Traditionally, infrastructure spending only goes for roads and bridges and the basic equipment and structures that are needed for a country to function properly. But many are surprised to learn that the lead services lines bringing water into their homes are NOT part of the “infrastructure” and that the burden was on families to replace them. They are also surprised that home inspections required by mortgage companies do not include lead inspections. 

We think infrastructure and federally guaranteed mortgages should be used to make our homes safe for our children. Indeed, we have “shared” our homes with guests and friends and, of course, our families. But 37 million homes built before 1978 have lead paint,2 and at least six million homes have lead water service lines. This “shared” lead has poisoned millions of our children, sometimes poisoning one child after another as one family leaves and another moves in. Existing FHA, Fannie, and Freddie underwriting standards are part of the problem, but they could be part of the solution.

The biggest culprit is old single-pane painted windows, which have the highest lead paint and lead dust levels of any building component. Replacing windows is already a proven strategy. In a pilot program, Illinois replaced lead-contaminated windows in Peoria and Chicago in 500 homes,3 resulting in huge and sustained lead dust reductions not only on windows but also on floors; and many other studies have reached similar conclusions.

The time has come to replace all those old contaminated windows, those lead drinking water pipes, and the other lead hazards in our homes. Enormous benefits follow if infrastructure funds are used to address lead in homes:
  • First, over 75,000 jobs – good-paying jobs for both made-in-America window manufacturing and installation workers;
  • Second, increased property values anywhere from $5,900 to $14,300 per home4
  • Third, a return on investment of at least $17 per dollar spent on lead remediation or removal5
  • Fourth, up to $500 per household saved each year on reduced fuel bills, because new windows are more energy efficient.6 
With the right infrastructure improvements, we can all share safe drinking water and lead-safe homes. 

The evidence is clear – whether in small towns or big cities, rural or urban: We all win when we eliminate lead hazards and protect our children. Our traditional approach has been to respond only after a child is poisoned, but there is no reason to wait until the damage has already been done. We should test our homes and schools, not just our children’s blood. And we should insist that housing finance institutions like FHA, Fannie, and Freddie do the right thing and eliminate those hazards before children are poisoned.

As part of our new national infrastructure initiative, let’s include solving the lead problem. We urge the new president and Congress to protect our children. Let’s not wait for another Flint or another poisoned child. Get Fannie, Freddie, and FHA to do the right thing. Get rid of those old lead-contaminated windows and old lead pipes and put our people back to work to protect our children and our future.

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1 Tresande, L., & Liu, Y. (2011, May). Reducing the staggering costs of environmental disease in children. Health Affairs 30(5), 863. Retrieved February 21, 2017,
from http://content.healthaffairs.org/content/30/5/863.long
2 Cox, D. C., Dewalt, G., O'Haver, R., Salatino, B. (2011, April). American healthy homes survey: Lead and arsenic findings. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Retrieved February 21, 2017, from  https://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/documents/huddoc?id=AHHS_Report.pdf
3 Jacobs, D. E., Tobin, M.,Targos, L., Clarkson, D., Dixon, S. L. Breysse, J., et al. (2016, September-October). Replacing windows reduces childhood lead exposure: Results from a state-funded program. Journal of Public Health Management & Practice, 22(5), 482-491. Retrieved February 21, 2017, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26910871
4 Nevin, R., Jacobs, D. E., Berg, M., & Cohen, J. (2008, March). Monetary benefits of preventing childhood lead poisoning with lead-safe window replacement, Environmental Research, 106(3), 410-419. Retrieved February 21, 2017, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17961540
5 Gould, E. (2009, July). Childhood lead poisoning: Conservative estimates of the social and economic benefits of lead hazard control. Environmental Health Perspectives, 117(7), 1162-1167. Retrieved February 21, 2017, from https://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/wp-content/uploads/117/7/ehp.0800408.pdf
6 Nevin, R., Jacobs, D. E., Berg, M., & Cohen, J. (2008, March). Monetary benefits of preventing childhood lead poisoning with lead-safe window replacement, Environmental Research, 106(3), 410-419. Retrieved February 21, 2017, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17961540



Related: Portuguese Translation
Infraestrutura e hipotecas: E as crianças: "Infrastructure and Mortgages: What about the Kids?" was translated into Portuguese by Artur Weber and Adelina Domingos. Note that this article was not translated by NCHH; therefore, we cannot be responsible for any errors or omissions in the translation. [url]


 
Dr. David Jacobs, former Director of the Lead Poisoning Prevention Program at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, is the Chief Scientist for the National Center for Healthy Housing and an adjunct professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health

Anita Weinberg is a Clinical Professor and the Director of the ChildLaw Policy Institute at Loyola University Chicago School of Law, which spearheaded lead poisoning prevention efforts in Illinois for over 10 years.

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