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Get the Lead Out

4/14/2010 by Gilda Haas - 2 comments

poster Seth Tobocman

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While health insurance and bank lobbies vie for the comic-book-villain-of-the-year award, there is nothing more insidious than the invisible health threats that attack us daily without our consent or knowledge — through our water, our food, and our air.


For parents, the very notion that the homes in which our children play, eat, and sleep might be silently poisoning them, gradually causing nerve and brain damage to developing bodies, is a very hard pill to swallow. Yet for tenants who are trapped by high housing costs in slum housing, this is often the case.  The cause is chipping and peeling lead paint, and the uber-villians are the slumlords who profit, often hugely, from dangerous, unhealthy housing conditions.


Although lead paint has been banned from the U.S. since 1978, existing lead paint that chips and peels in neglected homes flake into dust that contaminates the air that children breathe indoors and the soil where they play outside.  (intact paint is not a hazard).


In Los Angeles, it is estimated that 48,000 families are living in extreme slum conditions and getting sick as a result, from exposure to lead and other hazards in their homes.  In New Orleans, Hurricane Katrina washed chips of lead paint from the homes into the soil, where it remains as a constant threat to children’s health.


The ecological principle that “diversity ensures resilience” applies to the business of solving intractable urban problems.  It is not simply a matter of how many eyes and brains are brought to bear on difficult problems, but rather,it is  the diversity of those eyes and brains that lead to the best solutions.  In the case of childhood lead-poisoning, the solutions are available, but hampered by lack of political will, commitment, alignment, and intelligent resource allocation.


What follows are stories about two efforts, the Healthy Neighborhoods, Same Neighbors Collaborative in Los Angeles and the New Orleans-based Fundred Dollar Bill Project that employ diverse methods and thinking to transforming homes and neighborhoods from sources of poison to healthy sanctuaries for our nation’s children.

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