Summer Savings! Get unlimited digital access for 13 weeks for $13.


News Opinion Op-Eds

Lead is still poisoning our children

What if there was a completely preventable disease that affected one in 38 American children under the age of six and Congress effectively eliminated the funding that supports efforts to eradicate the cause of the disease? There is such a disease — lead poisoning — and Congress did slash funding for lead poisoning prevention at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the most recent federal budget.

Every year more than half a million children are poisoned by lead in their homes, leaving them with irreversible brain damage that will affect them for the rest of their lives. Children with lead poisoning will be challenged to succeed in school, as lead has a direct negative impact on reading and learning abilities. These children are seven times more likely to drop out of school, have higher rates of attention deficit disorder and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. They are more likely to engage in aggressive or violent behavior. All of this costs taxpayers more than $43 billion a year in expenses associated with lead poisoning.

But it's not just children who are impacted by lead poisoning. Recent studies have found a 19 percent increase in cardiac arrest in adults exposed to lead, as well as a 46 percent increase in the rate of early mortality. Pregnant women exposed to lead have significantly higher incidences of still births, miscarriages and low birth weight babies.

Combating lead poisoning enables us to address one of the root causes of poor school performance. For all of the money invested by philanthropies and the federal government to improve educational outcomes, there are still hundreds of thousands of children who will never be able to learn and succeed like their peers. For every dollar invested in preventing lead poisoning there is a return of up to $200, not to mention the life-changing impact that education can make on a child's life.

There is no arguing that lead is a dangerous neurotoxin or that we have made great progress over the last four decades in reducing the number of children poisoned. However, de-funding lead programs and reducing the influence of the lead poisoning prevention advisory panel that informs the CDC (as a reorganization proposed by the agency's director, Thomas Friedan, would do) will take us right back to where we were four decades ago — risking the lives of children and families.

There are few diseases for which we have the known cure, but lead poisoning is one of them. If we remove the hazards from a home, we drastically reduce the likelihood of lead poisoning and can effectively eliminate it as a major public health threat. It is that simple.

Over the next five years the Green & Healthy Homes Initiative is committed to advancing a national agenda to reduce the rate of childhood lead poisoning by 75 percent. Through education, enforcement of existing regulations and hazard reduction efforts, we can achieve this goal and save a generation of children from lead's toxic legacy.

Ruth Ann Norton is the executive director of the Green & Healthy Homes Initiative (formerly the Coalition to End Childhood Lead Poisoning). Her email is

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
Related Content
  • Lead poisoning cases continue to decline

    Lead poisoning cases continue to decline

    State begins tackling cases of lower-level exposure

  • Connecting communities and schools in Baltimore

    Connecting communities and schools in Baltimore

    A sea change is taking place in Baltimore, and it recently received national recognition. Where it's taking hold, school attendance is up. Chronic absenteeism is down. Student achievement and promotion rates are up. More families are engaged. School climates are being transformed.

  • Planned Parenthood attack part of political agenda

    Planned Parenthood attack part of political agenda

    Planned Parenthood is the most trusted women's health care provider in this country. Approximately one in five women in the United States has relied on a Planned Parenthood health center for care in her lifetime. At Planned Parenthood, nothing is more important to us than the health and safety...

  • Overcoming the confidence gap

    Overcoming the confidence gap

    When I was sent the link to a Baltimore Sun article about four local girls making the U.S. national Under-19 lacrosse team, I was eager to read it. After all, I had played on that same team 16 years ago, and one of my own students is on the team. So I opened the link, read the first sentence, and...

  • Encouraging innovation in Md.

    Encouraging innovation in Md.

    A recent Kauffman Foundation study found that year-over-year startup activity in the U.S. increased in 2015 for the first time in five years and showed the largest increase in more than 20 years. This is particularly good news from an employment perspective because new firms create the vast majority...

  • Pathways, not fences, for Baltimore's homeless

    Pathways, not fences, for Baltimore's homeless

    Earlier this month, I drove past the newly constructed fence located at the corner of Martin Luther King Boulevard and Franklin Street. The fence was erected to keep out the dozens of homeless people who had staked out a tiny piece of land there that they could call home. The city removed them...