1999 CPEO Brownfields List Archive

From: Lenny Siegel <lsiegel@cpeo.org> (by way of "cpeo@cpeo.org" <cpeo@cpeo.org>)
Date: Tue, 16 Feb 1999 10:02:17 -0800 (PST)
Reply: cpeo-brownfields
Subject: Lead Programs

The January, 1999 General Accounting Office (GAO) report on lead ("Lead
Poisoning: Federal Health Care Programs Are Not Effectively Reaching
At-Risk Children," GAO/HEHS-99-18) succinctly describes the national
lead problem. It points out that regulatory action, such as the
outlawing of lead as a gasoline additive, have reduced lead exposures.
As the title suggests, the report focuses on the shortcomings of
federally funded health programs in addressing lead-poisoned children. 

Unfortunately, it  doesn't go the next step. It ignores the overarching
weakness of the American approach to a widespread, well recognized
public health problem. The U.S. has no comprehensive lead strategy.
Instead of targeting public and environmental health measures to protect
at-risk children, it backs into lead protection from a variety of
statutes and programs.

GAO reports, "The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
estimates that 890,000 children aged 1 through 5 in the United States
have blood lead levels associated with harmful effects on their ability
to learn. Lead poisoning has long been considered to be the most serious
environmental health threat to children in the United States." The
testing of blood for high levels of lead is considered the "best
screening method to identify harmful conditions," since the many typical
symptoms, such as learning disabilities and hyperactivity, are difficult
to pinpoint.

On the positive side, past environmental controls have made an enormous
difference: "Between the late 1970s and early 1990s, the prevalence of
U.S. children aged 1 through 5 who had elevated blood levels dropped
from 88 percent to 4.4. percent. HHS [the U.S. Department of Health and
Human Services] and others consider the decline in blood lead levels,
associated with regulatory and voluntary bans on the use of lead in
gasoline, household paint, food and drink cans, and plumbing systems, to
be a major achievement." However, "the risk for lead exposure remains
disproportionately high for some groups, including children who are
poor, non-Hispanic blacks, or Mexican American or are living in large
metropolitan areas or in older housing."

GAO found that federal health care programs, including those serving
populations which have a high share of lead poisoning, are not
adequately responding. Preventive care is weak. Treatment and follow-up
have substantial problems. Less than one in five children (aged 1 to 5)
targeted by three federal health care programs are screened for
blood-lead levels.

Unlike many other environmental health problems, lead-poisoning has a
huge, undeniable impact. Researchers and policy-makers know a great deal
about whom is impacted, and why. Doctors and other health professionals
know how to counter the harmful effects of lead. But government agencies
and programs - federal, state, tribal, and local - are not getting the
job done. Many people are trying, but the regulatory system fragments
both controls and cleanup, based upon the ownership and nature of the
source; health programs lack the funds to treat children should
screening identify the real caseload.

Researchers know where the problem lies. If all government programs and
rules dealing with lead contamination and children were combined, or at
least coordinated, to target known problems, a lot more could be
achieved without substantial increases in resources allocated. GAO
suggests a number of piecemeal reforms to improve the situation, but the
country deserves a comprehensive strategy instead.

(Singles copies of GAO reports are available for free by calling
202/512-6000 or may be downloaded from http://www.gao.gov.)

Lenny Siegel


Lenny Siegel
Director, Center for Public Environmental Oversight
c/o PSC, 222B View St., Mountain View, CA 94041
Voice: 650/961-8918 or 650/969-1545
Fax: 650/968-1126
MY OLD E-MAIL ADDRESS: lsiegel@igc.org)

  Prev by Date: Boston Breakfast
Next by Date: Re: Tax the Subsidies and Gentrification
  Prev by Thread: Boston Breakfast
Next by Thread: New Member Interests

CPEO Lists
Author Index
Date Index
Thread Index