Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Getting The Lead Out

"Every urban area has lead."
"If there's something we can do that will result in improved educational outcomes and reduced violence in the community, why don't we do it?"
Dr. Leana Wen, health commissioner, Baltimore
Genetha Campbell picks up water from a Flint church.

Well, it depends. When from time to time, there's a consumer backlash manipulated by a government agency that trade items from China, imported by American entrepreneurs to fill up the shelves in stores selling all manner of inexpensive and popular consumer items from cheap jewellery to painted toys, screaming !foul! because with a view to cheap manufacturing lead is used in the paint and the base metals involved, there is outrage.

When a source of lead is old municipal sewer systems that require infrastructure investment to change, those remedial actions usually take place where the more educated and wealthier taxpayer lives, to the neglect of the poor neighbourhoods where people don't as much tend to vote, and are a disproportionate drag on the wealth of the nation, using public welfare services and generally accepting what they're designated to live with.

The recent outcry in Flint, Michigan with the discovery that the municipal water system was compromised and heavily leaking lead when a temporary diversion took place, led to the revelation that 4.9 percent of children who were tested for lead had elevated levels in their bloodstream. Little wonder there's outrage. Children's growing brains become stunted, their potential distorted, and the outcome is a lower gradient of intelligence and higher likelihood that they will turn to violence in adulthood.
Anger over high levels of lead in the water in Flint has led the mayor to declare a state of emergency -- The Washington Post

How's that for a dismally poor start in life for vulnerable children? However, as Dr. Wen from Baltimore stated, "Every urban area has lead", and she should know, given her professional and employment status. "Lead in Flint is the tip of the iceberg. Flint is a teachable moment for America", further noted Dr. Richard J. Jackson, formerly director of the National Center for Environmental Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

So what's holding up an advance in finding a solution to this dreadful problem of lead contamination impacting people's lives so deleteriously? This is a wealthy, technologically advanced, health-aware nation, after all! That same Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has some interesting figures on geographic areas and lead contamination affecting children elsewhere. In 2014, it appears that outside of New York City the figure was 6.7 percent of children with elevated levels of lead.

Higher than Flint, by a considerable margin, but that's not the worst of it, apparently. In Pennsylvania the figure turned out to be 8.5 percent; on the west side of Detroit, one-fifth of children tested in that same year tested positive for lead poisoning. In Iowa in the year 2012, 32 percent of children had elevated lead levels, according to their test results. It appears these areas have something in common, they often represent low-income children of colour.

Like the asbestos industry when asbestos was freely used for home insulation and many other applications, exposing people to the deadly asbestos fibres leading to asbestosis and early deaths from cancer, the industry fought ferociously to prove that asbestos was safe, a tried-and-true contributor to industrial and manufacturing usefulness in a variety of products. The Province of Quebec, where most other jurisdictions have banned its use, continues to side with the asbestos extraction industry.

And nor has the situation been different with lead, with the industry involving itself to fight regulation. However, like the fight against lung cancer and nicotine, manufacturers have been shown to blatantly hide what they know about the harmfulness of their product in the interests of their bottom line. An estimated 24 million homes in the United States have within them deteriorating lead paint their occupants are unaware of.

Anti-lead programs eventually led in the 1970s and 80s to remove lead from gasoline, and lead reduction in paint. One research finding was that removing lead from gasoline raised the I.Q. of the average American child by between two and five points. However, anti-lead programs were being dismantled once Congress slashed lead program funding in 2012 by 93 percent. And millions of children in the US suffer brain impairment reflecting public apathy and lead industry indifference.

"We are indeed all Flint. Lead poisoning continues to be a silent epidemic in the United States", ruefully stated Dr. Philip Landrigan, professor of preventive medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine, at Mount Sinai.

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