At least half a million children in the United States have been poisoned by lead. And although it is totally preventable American children are still poisoned each day.
Lead in household paint – once marketed as durable and safe – became recognised as toxic, especially to children. It was banned in 1978, but lead paints still exist in tens of millions of older US homes.
We are really looking at prevention and not just chasing sick children around, trying to get them tested ... These are not just statistics, these are people with lives.
Once it starts to flake, the paint chips and dust put lead into the air, soil and our bodies.
Children are the most susceptible to being poisoned because their bodies absorb the toxic metal at higher rates than adults.
Studies have shown that lead, especially at higher levels, can cause irreversible brain damage in children. Children who have suffered from lead poisoning are more likely to have lower IQs, long-term health problems, be diagnosed with ADHD, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and exhibit aggressive behaviour.
“These are kids who are not going to do well in school, who may drop out of school, may end up committing crimes, who then may end up going to prison,” says Rachel Dissell, a reporter for The Cleveland Plain Dealer.
When lead was found in the water in the US city of Flint, Michigan, there was outrage from the public as well as federal officials. But at the time, according to some estimates, the city of Cleveland had almost three times the number of children suffering from lead poisoning.
“When you’re holding a glass of water in Flint and you can see it’s an odd colour and it smells bad. This just shouts ‘we need to pay attention’. Lead in Cleveland and in most other cities is invisible. The problem is invisible and it always has been,” says Brie Zeltner, a reporter for The Cleveland Plain Dealer.
Federal dollars for lead poisoning prevention across the country have been severely cut in the past several years. Cleveland, which almost exclusively relied on that money, has had little else in place to prevent poisoning. The city requires no lead testing before home sales and it doesn’t offer any public record of lead safe homes.
So what is being done to prevent lead poisoning? And why are American policymakers and communities not doing more to protect America’s children?
Fault Lines travels to Cleveland, Ohio, to investigate the high levels of lead poisoning in children in the inner cities of America and ask how and why hundreds of children are still being poisoned by lead each year in the US.