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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

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!

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