You have the bluest lips that I ever saw. Little did I know as a child when looking at my friend would I know that he was impacted by lead poisoning. My great grandmother said “Girl he has bad blood.” Bad blood was the way my elders described things that they could not explain. Little did they know that their observation could be so right. That blue line on my friends lip was a clear sign that he was lead poisoned. Today we know that even the smallest amount of lead in our blood can impact us for a lifetime. Exposure through contaminated water, dust, and food can change your life forever. According to the Centers for Disease Control no level in the blood is safe but 5 micrograms per deciliter in children and 10 micrograms per deciliter in adults is the amount that should prompt alarm and action. We have to look at the length and amount of exposure to determine the toxicity.
We have all heard of the lead poisoning crisis in Flint, Michigan but what we never talk about are the other cities and states that are impacted by lead poisoning. Cleveland, Ohio is one of those cities with rates twice as high as Flint. The people that are at greatest risk are poor. Is it only a illness that impacts the poor? “NO” all people can be impacted but poor people live in areas that are more likely to have homes in need of repair. Replacing windows, carpet and painting walls won’t eliminate all of the risks but these steps can significantly cut down on the risk. The biggest source of lead exposure is lead-based paint found primarily in homes built before 1978 that includes 90% of the homes in Cleveland and 80% in Cuyahoga County. The US has worked to reduce risks by permanently banning lead in paint and gasoline and reducing the amounts that are allowable in water and soil. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates, drinking water accounts for up to 20 percent of the human exposure to lead.
We discussed where the lead is found but the symptoms are an important part in addressing the challenges and changing the conversations that are taking place in Cleveland and across the country. The symptoms mimic those of other illnesses including abdominal pains, constipation, headaches, irritability, memory problems, inability to have children and tingling in the hands and feet. Complications can include anemia, coma, seizures and death. People that are lead impacted are permanently damaged though blood, then it settles in the bones and finally in the kidneys. Adults symptoms include headache, abdominal pain, memory loss, kidney failure, reproduction issues. We must look at the other issues that impact the community as a whole and ask ourselves is lead poisoning the cause of the African American communities high rates of infant mortality, kidney failure, heart disease, violence and Alzheimer's. The symptoms also mimic ADHD and ADD and we know that the behavioral health crisis from recognition to diagnosis is always talked about without mentioning the root causes. Many of the young women in the urban community are vitamin deficient because of poor nutrition habits, and food deserts thus when they become pregnant the vitamins that the body so disparately needs are taken from the bones and if the bones are poisoned with lead the baby is impacted in utero. Everything that was previously discussed disproportionately impact the African American community particularly our children yet we never talk about the link between the rates and causes of disease, disability and death.
The lifetime impact of lead poisoning and earnings and quality of life have to be addressed. The cost of doing nothing is everything. From the uterus to the grave the impact of lead poisoning the monetary cost of continuing to use our children as lead detectors is too high a cost to pay. We must do better. Rev. Dr. King said "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." This is the injustice that he spoke about so eloquently. How can we know the problem and the cure and continue to hope that it will go away? How can we look at the violence that is plaguing our communities and not say let's do everything is our power to make sure that the least of us are provided the solution. Like is a superhero movie when we are in search of the antidote not to keep to ourselves but to save the world. I am a co founder of the Cleveland Lead Safe Network which is an organization that seeks to protect children from lead poisoning due to deteriorated lead paint and lead dust, and empower families in finding lead-safe homes. The Network is composed of diverse individuals and organizational stakeholders committed to mobilizing and supporting survivor households. With its family focus, Network members pledge to engage and hold our local government accountable to its responsibility for protecting our children.
CLSN started meeting with council member, health department officials and Cleveland residents to find out about their competency levels when it came to lead poisoning. The numbers were staggering but the lack of awareness spoke louder than words. Councilman Jeff Johnson heard us out and agreed that we needed an ordinance. The ordinance, drafted at Johnson's request by The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland, would make the certificates mandatory for almost all homes and apartments - not just rental housing. Legal Aid Society has been working to make sure that victims have a voice. We also have a voice of the federal level HUD's Office of Lead Hazard Control and Healthy Homes, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are collaborating in a national public awareness campaign to help individuals, organizations, and state and local governments reduce childhood exposure to lead. In October, 2017 during National Lead Poisoning and Prevention Week Housing and Urban Development Secretary Dr. Ben Carson stated "I've seen firsthand the tragic consequences when young children are exposed to hazardous lead and how it can impact them throughout their lives," Carson. "Any step we can take to prevent and eliminate these dangers from our homes is a step we must take."
Rev. Dr. King once asked "Life's most persistent and urgent question is, 'What are you doing for others?", the Northeast Ohio Black Health Coalition is making sure that we are present during the times that matter most. Our community has to work together to save our children. The monetary costs to repair a home are a small price to pay in the life of a man.