Lead Poisoning: The Ignored Scandal

 

epstein_1-032113.jpgSpencer Platt/Getty Images. A child with high levels of lead in her blood walking past a wall of peeling lead paint in her family’s apartment, Brooklyn, July 2003

In December 1993, a slum landlord in Baltimore named Lawrence Polakoff rented an apartment to a twenty-one-year-old single mother and her three-year-old son, Max.1 A few days after they moved in, Max’s mother was invited to participate in a research study comparing how well different home renovation methods protected children from lead poisoning, which is still a major problem endangering the health of millions of American children, many of them poor.

Congress had banned the sale of interior lead paint in 1978, but it remained on the walls of millions of homes nationwide, and there was no adequate federal program to deal with it. In Baltimore, most slum housing contained at least some lead paint, and nearly half of the children who lived in these houses had levels of lead in their blood well above that considered safe by the Centers for Disease Control. Max’s blood lead was low when he moved into Polakoff’s apartment, but Polakoff had been cited at least ten times in the past for violating Baltimore’s lead paint regulations, and several former tenants would later sue him for poisoning their children, so the boy was now in great danger.

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