the early 1900s, lead has been deemed a damaging and poisonous
environmental pollutant for workers and individuals living in houses
infused with lead paint. In late 1991, the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, Louis W. Sullivan, designated lead as the "number one environmental threat to the health of children in the United States."
In 1972, I assisted my graduate school colleague, Dr. Juanita Gaston
(Professor Emeritus at Florida A & M University) in collecting
blood samples from inner-city, grade-school African American children
in Lansing, Michigan for her Masters’ thesis. Blood lead levels had
spiked among Lansing school children residing in dilapidated housing
riddled with lead paint. Her findings confirmed the severity of the
problem and were reported to the Lansing City Health Department. No
corrective actions were undertaken until the mi- 2000s, more than
thirty years after the documentation of the problem was presented.
Adults and children can be exposed to lead in a variety of ways:
through air via the ingestion of lead-based dust, lead exhaust from
cars (although less in recent years), lead from toxic industries (which
tend to be concentrated in or nearby poor neighborhoods), drinking
water, food, contaminated soil, deteriorating paint through chips which
are randomly eaten by young children living in housing and
neighborhoods enveloped by all of the above.
homes built before 1960 contain heavily leaded paint. Some homes
built as recently as 1978 also contain lead paint. For decades, lead
poisoning has been central to the educational challenges faced by
low-wealth students (those qualifying for free- and reduced-priced
lunch) in numerous urban public school systems across the country.
During this period, and continuing to the present, city and state
government did little to remedy this problem. Lead abatement
programs were few and inconsistent, local health departments did not
address lead poisoning as a major public health hazard, the necessary
funding was never appropriated, and those citizens who did raise the
issue were routinely ignored.
children exposed to excessive amounts of lead may exhibit significant
deficits in many and/or all of the following characteristics:
comprehension and production,
and memory efficiency,
to sustain attention to task,
and thinking behavior, and
unregulated activity levels.
barriers to a successful education experience disproportionately doom
hundreds of thousands of poor children of color in urban settings to
failed educational outcomes for which they are blamed individually
due to their alleged genetic intellectual inferiority (see Richard J.
Herrnstein and Charles Murray’s bestselling The Bell Curve,
1994 which purported to scientifically affirm this allegation).
Teachers, especially those of a Caucasian background, are also held
solely responsible for their lower educational performance.
in the 1990s, lead poisoning became intertwined with education reform
initiatives as the Cartel of corporate and foundation leaders, and
their surrogates, came to realize that the prevalence of lead
poisoning in school children in under-funded and under-performing
urban schools could be part of their strategy to promote
private-sector alternatives to public schools—corporate and
virtual charter schools, publicly-funded vouchers for private and
religious schools, and the takeover of public schools and public
school districts by Educational Management Organizations (EMOs) and
Charter Management Organizations (CMOs).
recent lead poisoning crisis in Flint, Michigan has energized urban
activists across the nation to step forward to re-focus attention on
the ongoing lead crisis in their communities.
example, I attended a lively forum on lead poisoning at the Camden,
New Jersey OEO Building last Saturday, March 5, 2016. It was hosted
by Mangaliso Davis, an environmental activist and featured Dr.
Charles Rico, a Water Resource Management Expert and Certified Water
Quality Improvement & Equipment Specialist. They provided
evidence to show that lead poisoning has been widespread in Camden
for more than three decades through polluted air, lead-based paint in
homes and apartments built before 1960, contaminated soil, and dust.
American and Hispanic families, and especially their children, were and
are the primary victims. They have been historically restricted to
housing coated with lead paint as a result of lower incomes and
segregated housing practices. Moreover, many of the children have
already ingested lead in their homes while toddlers between the ages of
two and five.
However, contemporarily, the greatest lead poisoning threat in Camden
has come from its toxic water system and mold and asbestos in public
school buildings. Camden City School students are being negatively
impacted to a greater degree by lead in the water system than school
children in Flint, Michigan whose lead water crisis has received
national attention. The R.T. Cream Family School, the city’s worst
example, is currently operating as a lead chamber, of sorts, for Camden
children who breathe lead-based air, are surrounded by mold, and forced
to eat their lunch and receive instruction in an environment that is
dangerous to their health on a daily basis.
Although, Mr. Davis and Dr. Rico formally brought these issues to the
attention of Mayor Dana Redd in a detailed letter in 2013 with robust
proof, she has not responded to these concerns. Like Flint, also a
majority-minority city, Camden citizens and children of color are being
sacrificed on the altar of gentrification and profit.
Elsewhere, Milwaukee, Wisconsin community leaders will be holding a
press conference at City Hall today at noon to address the city’s
enduring lead problem.
Mayor Tom Barrett and the city’s health officials state
unequivocally that no "lead is …
found in Milwaukee's source water or public water system."
City officials go on to say that "lead
can enter water" because of regular wear and tear of "materials
containing lead in building fixtures, internal plumbing, or in the
service line" transporting
water to building structures. But an investigative story in the
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the
city’s major newspaper,
estimates that it would cost more
than $500 million to replace and/or repair pipes delivering water to
expenses associated with the more than 70,000 homes that will require
pipe/line replacements to ensure lead free water is being passed on
to property owners living in high poverty areas of the city. Before
passing these costs on to Milwaukee taxpayers, Mayor Barrett
attempted to sue the Sherwin-Williams Paint Company in 2006 in an
effort to get them to shoulder the financial burden for Milwaukee’s
long-term lead disaster. The Wisconsin Supreme Court dismissed the
suit in a summary judgment pointing out that it had no merit
whatsoever, as Sherwin-Williams did not contribute to lead in
Milwaukee homes and buildings in any way.
addition, the response of city health officials is to ask citizens in
the areas at greatest risk to run water before they use it and to
tell them that Milwaukee’s water treatment facility has safely
treated its water with chemicals to reduce the risk of lead leaching
from plumbing pipes and lines into water. They neglect to mention
that the deterioration of the pipes over time can overpower the
Flint, Michigan water debacle has had its greatest impact by bringing
attention to the severity of lead poisoning in America’s urban
centers. Yet few of our elected leaders at any level of government
are assembling the resources to rectify the situation. Flint Mayor
Dr. Karen Weaver is one of the rare public officeholders who is
facing this catastrophe head on.
Michigan Governor Dan Snyder is using this opportunity to further
privatize public schools in Flint, Detroit, Grand Rapids, and
Michigan’s other majority-minority cities, along with the
Cartel and its allies, who are employing similar tactics in Newark
and Camden New, Jersey, Milwaukee, Baltimore, Los Angeles, Atlanta,
Indianapolis, Washington, D.C., and other cities targeted for the
dismantling of public education—all of which have major
problems with lead poisoning in their water systems.
will question whether this is a corporate conspiracy as I suggest.
You can make a personal judgment or “believe
your own lying eyes” as
the data to support this calamity continue to mount.