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Ending the federal budgeting process recently, Congress dealt a devastating blow to the fight against childhood lead poisoning. The Omnibus Appropriations Bill cut funding for the CDC’s Healthy Homes Lead Poisoning Prevention Program to $2 million—a 94% reduction from FY11.
Lead poisoning still remains a significant environmental public health threat that affects over 30 million homes and nearly a half-million children annually. Today, parents of lead poisoned children can rely on their state or local health departments for help. A nurse or trained professional will come to their house and find the source of lead poisoning.
The program may connect parents to resources to remove hazards and can compel rental property owners to fix hazards. The program also prevents the disease through policies, community education, and outreach. “Congress gave our children a lump of lead this holiday season,” said Rebecca Morley, Executive Director of the National Center for Healthy Housing.
“Studies show that educating a child with lead poisoning costs an extra $38,000. If even half of the children with lead poisoning incur these costs, that’s a $10 billion price tag,” continued Morley. “The cost of eliminating this program is staggering.”
The decision will result in the near-elimination of the program and massive job loss at the state and local levels. The move follows an advisory committee’s recommendation to CDC to lower the threshold for when a child is considered to have enough lead in his or her blood that follow-up action is needed. This change in the “action level” will more than double the caseload of poisoned kids that need the health department’s help.
“The burden on the most vulnerable families just got heavier. Too many children with lead poisoning already go undiagnosed. Without this program, we will return to the era of children being hospitalized for lead. Why is Congress treating our children like canaries in a coal mine?” said Liz Colon, parent and organizer for the Childhood Lead Action Project in Rhode Island.
The impact of these proposed cuts will also fall directly on the backs of low-income families and communities of color that are disproportionately impacted by environmental health hazards. Nationally, African American children are three times more likely to suffer from lead poisoning.
In some locales, African American and Latino children are eight to nine times more likely to enter school with a history of lead poisoning. Children poisoned by lead are seven times more likely to drop out of school and six times more likely to end up in the juvenile justice system.
“Lead poisoning is preventable. We are taking a huge step back in protecting our children’s health, safety, and future by eliminating the resources communities need to prevent and address lead exposures,” said Nsedu Witherspoon, Executive Director of the Children’s Environmental Health Network.