You’ve got to wonder what the world looks like if you’re a kid—the odds sure seem stacked against you. Your school doesn’t have the resources to teach you. Your government seems hellbent on making it impossible for you or your classmates from getting vaccines or even seeing a doctor. Poverty, bigotry, violence are on the rise. There’s toxic lead in the walls of your home—go outside! There’s toxic lead in the dirt and in the dust in the air—back inside!
We woke up Sunday morning to a bombshell investigative piece in the Inquirer revealing that lead poisoning rates are unacceptably high in Kensington, where the legacy of long closed smelting plans remain unaddressed. Lead is hidden in the dirt but where there’s construction or kids playing, it becomes airborne.
While the issue has been a concern for advocates and a source of anxiety for the community for a long time, the article served as a reminder that there remains much more to do to protect kids and that the Environmental Protection Agency and the PA Department of Environmental Projection could and should be doing a lot more.
Before we talk about next steps, let’s take a look at how far we’ve come.
The Mayor’s Child Lead Advisory Committee was formed last year in part because PCCY asked Mayor Kenney to make this health crisis a priority, Councilwomen Blondell Reynolds Brown and Helen Gym championed it, and powerful investigative reporting from media outlets like the Inquirer pushed the discussion into the mainstream.
This week, there was actually a glimmer of hope in the fight against childhood lead poisoning. The City of Philadelphia released the report of the committee which included a sweeping plan for city action and new legislation to protect children.
Good things in the plan include:
Making sure every rental unit is free from lead paint by expanding the lead ordinance that Councilwoman Brown passed with the help of PCCY, Community Legal Services and others in 2012
Making sure landlords get clear information about lead and, if they face hardships in rehabbing properties, finding funds to get the lead out of their units
Giving renters access to information about what units are lead free
Going door-to-door in the communities with the highest rate of lead exposure and making sure children are safe
With only 41% of the children in the city meeting the federal standards for lead screening (two tests by the time they are three), the City will be increasing its efforts to educate parents and medical providers
Putting Medicaid funds towards caring for children whose tests show they’ve had high levels of lead exposure
So what comes next? We have to ensure our fellow Philadelphians step to the plate and support council members who will back a measure to require testing of every rental property and put funds in place to protect children from lead exposure. No plan can protect kids unless it’s followed by action.
We have state work to do too. The state must approve a more expansive use of Medicaid funds for lead exposed children, make sure lead-contaminated homes are not sold, and increase funding dedicated to the prevention of lead poisoning.
On the federal level, we have to make sure those Medicaid funds are there in the first place. Not only is Medicaid a critical source of funds to get lead out of the homes of poisoned kids, it touches the lives of every child, whether they receive basic healthcare through the program or their classmates do.
If you haven’t already, we urge you to take one minute to contact Senators Bob Casey and Pat Toomey and tell them you demand they put kids first by protecting Medicaid.
“Will the 20-year life-expectancy gap grow even wider?” Dr. Dan Taylor, considering the impact of the President’s budget proposal on poor children. A recent study revealed the 20-year gap between children born in different Philadelphia zip codes.