Long recognized as a dangerous toxin that can result in serious health problems, lead was removed from our gasoline and paint decades ago. But the problem of lead poisoning in children has not gone away. With so many New England houses and apartment buildings constructed before the 1978 lead-paint ban, tainted paint remains in many homes. As that paint deteriorates or is disturbed, children’s health is put at risk.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, any exposure to lead is dangerous for children. Even low levels of lead exposure can cause irreversible health problems when left untreated – including IQ deficits and cognitive and behavioral issues, effectively robbing children of their full potential. And, while the problem hits low-income and communities of color hardest, it affects children across all demographics throughout New England.
In New Hampshire, more than 1,000 new cases of lead poisoning are diagnosed each year. While that number is alarming on its own, the scope of the problem is likely much worse, since too few children – barely 40 percent of those considered highest risk for exposure – are actually tested each year. The lifelong health impacts those children will experience are troubling enough, but a recent report from New Hampshire reveals that the long-term costs go beyond the individual child. The report estimates that the 1,000 children diagnosed in the state just in 2013 will lose $240 million in collective lifetime earnings. The costs for special education, medical treatment, and crime linked to lead exposure add up to millions more dollars in economic impact.
CLF in Action
Protecting the people of New England – especially its most vulnerable populations – from environmental poisons is core to CLF’s work. Over the past year, CLF has brought together a diverse group of New Hampshire stakeholders – public health officials, children’s advocates, property owners, and lead professionals, among others – to develop meaningful, long-lasting solutions to the state’s ongoing problem of childhood lead poisoning.
Experts agree that the two most critical tools in addressing childhood lead poisoning are improving screening and, of course, preventing children from being poisoned in the first place. CLF took a lead role in crafting statewide legislation to address these needs, which the New Hampshire legislature passed in June with overwhelming support. CLF and its partners have also been working to identify needed solutions at the community level, with a focus on the City of Manchester, where the problem is particularly acute.
As of this writing, Governor Hassan is expected to sign the state lead bill into law. CLF will be tracking the bill’s implementation while continuing to work with its partners to review and improve policies so that every child in New Hampshire can be protected from this devastating – but preventable – problem.