Many scientific studies have documented lead’s negative effect on brain and social development and the toxic metal’s connection to failure in school, delinquency and crime. Yet little is being done to address this problem that afflicts neighborhoods throughout the United States, according to the investigation.
Children can pick up lead from buildings and soil. Experts believe that the major source of lead exposure comes from old, decaying paint; but more and more research is being done to determine exactly where lead exposure is coming from, and a lot of people are starting to think that maybe it is a cumulative effect.
Lead paint is still probably the driving factor, but old, lead plumbing fixtures also contribute, as does soil in people's yards. When that lead paint comes off their houses, when the exhaust that contained lead from past car fumes gets into the soil, it doesn't go away. When kids go outside and play, they stick their hands in their mouths, they track the dirt back inside their houses, they play on the floor leading to the lead getting into the children's bloodstream.
Previously, the only information available to the public were countywide maps that states made to show the percentage of tested kids in the county who had high lead levels. People found that those countywide maps not only didn't really show the problem areas, but they actually could provide a false sense of security.
Reporters obtained data broken down by census tract or zip code to identify neighborhoods where kids still had high lead levels. This was inspired by a story they previously wrote about East Chicago, Indiana. In East Chicago, a housing development was built on top of an old industrial smelting site and a CDC study said there was virtually no chance of children being exposed to lead from that old site.
"A few years later, of course, the mayor was evacuating this housing community,” the reporter says. “We went back and took a look at the state's data and showed that the CDC's assessment was incorrect. The CDC claimed correctly that while the city as a whole had a low percentage of children testing high for lead, in the census tract where that housing development was located there was a very high percentage of kids with elevated lead levels.”
In general, the communities most affected are low-income neighborhoods, often predominately of people of color. These neighborhoods typically consist of housing that's poorly taken cared of. Gentrifying neighborhoods are also being affected.
People move into old historic homes that have been painted for decades with lead paint. People start renovating the old homes which, can kick up a lot of this old lead paint. This is also seen in communities that have a long industrial history.
Epidemiologists, public health experts and nonprofits that provide healthy housing for people all conclude that there is no safe amount of lead in a child's blood system and there are costs down the road for society as a whole.
Lead causes permanent learning disabilities in children; it can cause behavioral problems.