Lead Remains Major Problem in California, Too

Adam Schiff

Adam Schiff

In 2015, Americans learned that the water in Flint, Michigan contained dangerously high levels of lead.

In an effort to save money, the local and state governments had changed Flint’s water source and failed to appropriately treat the new supply—willful negligence and mismanagement created a public health crisis that led to a state of emergency in Flint.

The crisis is not contained to Flint. California has recently discovered a significant lead problem of its own.

In a number of communities across the state, rates of childhood lead poisoning exceed levels in Flint. This issue deserves our immediate attention—lead can affect children’s neurological and behavioral development and its effects are believed to be irreversible.

One of the biggest challenges to addressing lead poisoning is determining its source. Blood tests don’t tell us if the lead comes from the water supply, old paint or soil.

If the source comes from water pipes, buildings, or something other than an industrial process, the contamination is likely the result of aging infrastructure.

When most people think of our nation’s infrastructure, they immediately picture bridges, highways and large buildings. But we also have to think about infrastructure on a smaller, often hidden, scale—local water systems and older housing, for example.

There are many federal agencies and programs dedicated to public health and safety that have responsibility over making sure we are safe driving on our roads and drinking water from our taps.

For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program focuses on eliminating childhood lead poisoning through research, education and screening. But because the program is gravely underfunded, over 20 states, including California, don’t receive funding from the CDC to facilitate these preventive measures.

Other agencies like Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have programs that focus on eliminating lead exposure, but they are also under threat. Despite their necessity and focus, the White House has proposed cutting these agencies by $54 billion.

The President’s drastic cuts will decimate our public health and infrastructure programs. If President Trump is serious about keeping Americans safe, he must remember that funding domestic programs to protect citizens at home is just as important—arguably more important to the lives of many Americans—than military spending.

Officials in California cities like Fresno, Oakland and Westlake are working on local legislation to reduce the risk of lead poisoning. We need to focus our resources on identifying the affected communities and possible sources of contamination so that we can stop the exposure.

As the President said to me when I met with him at the White House a couple weeks ago: “You Democrats sure like infrastructure.”

Yes, Mr. President. When it comes to the safety of our children and making sure they aren’t exposed to lead and other toxic substances, you bet we do. So do Republicans for that matter.

The threat of lead poisoning has no party affiliation and all Americans have a profound interest in addressing this profound public health risk.


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