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Get the Lead Out: How Baltimore is Fighting Lead Poisoning

Cropped SingleCare logo By | October 30, 2015

Baltimore City children have been affected by hazardous lead in paint and other household sources for decades. Now, the Housing and Urban Development Secretary has announced a $4 million grant to help children in low-income housing at risk of lead poisoning.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development has awarded the City of Baltimore a $4 million grant to perform health screenings of at-risk families and improve low-income homes. Each year, 3,200 Maryland children are poisoned by lead, along with more than 500,000 others across the country.

The Health Risks

Exposure to lead can have a wide range of repercussions for children. Even small concentrations in the bloodstream can result in behavioral and learning problems, lower IQ, hyperactivity, or slowed growth, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

In serious cases, lead poisoning can harm a child’s brain, kidneys, and other organs. Especially high levels in the blood can cause coma, convulsions, and even death. To make matters even worse, lead problems tend to compound with many other problems endemic to low-income families.

Mold, dust mites, and mice, along with lead paint (the dangers of which are explained here by a journal article in Epidemology), are often found in Baltimore’s low-income rental houses, known triggers of asthma symptoms that make the respiratory disorder common among the city’s schoolchildren, as the CDC shows.

“Asthma is the number one reason children miss school,” said Ruth Ann Norton, president and CEO of the Green & Healthy Homes Initiative, according to the Baltimore Sun. Asthma and learning disabilities, both of which are associated with lead poisoning (as Mt. Washington Pediatric Hospital shows), have caused many children to “fall through the cracks,” she said.

Since the U.S. took lead out of gasoline in 1976 and banned lead paint in 1978, many have presumed that the problem of lead poisoning has been solved for good. Yet, lead remains in many people’s homes and, according to the CDC, at least four million households have child occupants who are exposed to high levels of lead.

The Scientific American reports that “even though the average concentration of lead in the American bloodstream has dropped by a factor of ten since the late 1970s, the levels are still two orders of magnitude higher than natural human levels.”

Lead Checks

Children who are at the highest risk live in old, dilapidated buildings, often in the poorest neighborhoods. This means that health and learning problems often affect those who are already disadvantaged.

These effects have recently found their way into the national media spotlight. Earlier this year, the case of Freddie Gray plunged the city of Baltimore into protest after he died from injuries sustained in police custody.

His family has consistently argued that his run-ins with the law, poor school record, and inability to concentrate were linked to exposure to lead paint in his childhood home — in 2008, Gray and two of his sisters filed a lawsuit against the owners of the home in which they grew up.

The Washington Post reports that Gray and his two sisters were found to have damaging lead levels in their blood, and a settlement was reached out of court. Such lawsuits are so common in areas of Baltimore that the settlement payments are known as “lead checks.”

Take Action

Parents who are concerned that their children may have been exposed should get their children’s blood tested. It is always worth seeking professional advice to ensure that children are in a safe environment, and receive proper treatment. SingleCare can help to perform testing at a reasonable cost — the company provides access to doctors at discounted rates, even for those without insurance.

(Main image credit: Bob_MacMillan/flickr)