The societal costs of childhood lead poisoning are estimated at $50.9 billion annually, according to an analysis in Health Affairs. Despite that, public health efforts to prevent lead poisoning are notoriously underfunded. Three years ago, the budget for the childhood lead-screening program fronted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was slashed by 93%.
Public health advocates will spotlight the need to boost that funding during National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week, Oct. 25-31. The theme for 2015 is “Lead-Free Kids for a Healthy Future.” The focus will be on parental efforts to prevent serious health problems by reducing their children's exposure to lead.
Such campaigns are welcome and needed, according to Professor Lyke Thompson, director of the Center for Urban Studies at Wayne State University.
“Those of us in the lead community will take whatever help we can get to help more people,” Thompson said, adding that outlawing lead in fuel, plumbing and paint has helped abate the problem, but those efforts also contribute to complacency. “You can't just ban something and it goes away,” he explained. “It's still there. You have to protect against it for generations.”
The World Health Organization promotes the event internationally, noting that lead exposure leads to intellectual disabilities in 600,000 children each year. It can also be deadly. Dozens of Nigerian children died this spring in a lead-poisoning outbreak reportedly caused by illegal gold-mining practices. In 2010, some 400 children suffered a similar fate in Nigeria's Zamfara state. (See related Data Points)