When it comes to childhood lead poisoning, it’s no surprise that prevention is essential. Because even low levels of lead exposure can cause permanent, irreversible harm – effectively robbing kids of their full potential – the best thing we can do is protect our kids from being exposed to lead in the first place.
The greatest risk of lead exposure is deteriorating lead-based paint, which can be found in homes and apartments built before 1978. As we learned from the tragic circumstances in Flint, Michigan, drinking water also can be a concern. As part of National Lead Poisoning Awareness Week, we’re working to get the word out about the ongoing problem of childhood lead poisoning and simple steps we all can take to protect our kids from this poison. Working with partners, we’ve developed a new web-based resource – Lead Free Kids NH – to share essential information.
In addition to spreading the word, we’re working hard to promote better laws and policies to protect kids from the hazards of lead. In New Hampshire – where the state’s law effectively requires that a child be poisoned before the Department of Health & Human Services can order that lead hazards be remedied – we’re actively participating on the state’s Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention & Screening Commission to explore new policies and tools that will prevent the conditions that lead to kids being poisoned. We’re strongly advocating “Essential Maintenance Practices,” modeled after a program in Vermont, to ensure that rental properties and daycare centers are safely maintained, and that lead hazards are promptly identified and fixed. We’re also urging measures to ensure that contractors comply with lead-safe painting and renovation practices, as well as testing of drinking water.
On the national level, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is proposing an important rule to adopt a more rigorous standard to prevent ongoing lead exposures in federally owned and federally assisted housing. Whereas HUD’s current rules require actions to be taken when a child is diagnosed with a blood lead level of 20 micrograms per deciliter, such actions will now be required at the 5 micrograms per deciliter level, in alignment with the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control. Maine recently adopted this standard, and it’s something we’re advocating in New Hampshire as well. While the best approach is undoubtedly to require housing to be lead-safe before it can be rented – a prevention strategy adopted in Massachusetts – this more stringent standard will help prevent children from being exposed to lead cumulatively over time.
Unfortunately, lead is ubiquitous in our environment – especially here in New England where so much of our housing stock was built before the ban on lead-based paint. Protecting kids from the ravages of lead poisoning will require multiple strategies – from continuing to share needed information, to strengthening our laws and policies.