Confronting Environmental Racism: Voices from the Grassroots

By Robert D. Bullard | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 5

Getting the Lead Out of the Community

Janet Phoenix

Lead poisoning, while completely preventable, is one of the most common environmental health diseases in the United States (Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry 1988). Some of the symptoms of lead toxicity are fatigue, pallor, malaise, loss of appetite, irritability, sleep disturbance, sudden behavioral change, and developmental regression. The more serious symptoms include clumsiness, muscular irregularities, weakness, abdominal pain, persistent vomiting, constipation, and changes in consciousness. Lead exposure is particularly harmful to children. It damages their developing brains and nervous systems. Indeed, even low-level lead exposure can lead to attention disorders, learning disabilities, and emotional disturbances that can affect a child for the rest of his or her life. While once controversial, the effects of lead poisoning have now been carefully analyzed by several investigators and have gained wide acceptance within the public health field ( Needleman et al. 1992; Dietrichet al. 1987; Baghurstet al. 1987; Environmental Defense Fund 1990; Alliancen to End Childhood Lead Poisoning 1991).

One key source of lead poisoning has been dramatically reduced over the last two decades. A reduction in the mean blood lead level in the U.S. population occurred between 1976 and 1980 when the sale of leaded gasoline declined in this country. Yet, the problem of lead poisoning is still widespread. It has been estimated that between four to five million U.S. children are routinely exposed to lead in sufficient amounts to be considered dangerous to their health. As pointed out by the Centers for Disease Control:

Childhood lead poisoning is one of the most common pediatric health problems in the United States today, and it is entirely preventable. Enough is now known about the sources and pathways of lead exposure and about ways of preventing this exposure to begin the efforts to eradicate permanently this disease. The persistence of lead poisoning

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