Combating the Lead Paint Crisis in Cleveland
On Friday, October 21st, we attended a City Club luncheon where the topic was "Combating the Lead Paint Crisis in Cleveland" which featured Mr. Andrew Horansky, WKYC news reporter, moderating a panel discussion featuring Ms. Mary Flood, a Pediatric Nurse Practioner from MetroHealth; Ms. Rachel Dissell, a reporter with the "Plain Dealer"; Mr. Robert Cole, Managing Attorney, Advocates for Basic Legal Equality, Inc.; and Ms. Natoya J. Walker Minor, Chief of Public Affairs for the City of Cleveland.
As the City Club program notes stated, "Almost one year ago, "The Plain Dealer" began a series chronicling Cleveland's legacy of lead poising and how it connected with current concerns about education and violence among youth. The problem isn't new. Since 2000, approximately 40,000 children in Cuyahoga County suffered from lead poisoning; 80 percent of them lived in the city of Cleveland. It's a health crisis not unique to Cleveland. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), 37 million homes and apartments, most in poor, urban areas subject to decades of housing discrimination, still contain some lead paint in walls and woodwork. Lack of funding - both to eliminate lead paint in homes and to test children and adults exposed to lead - is cited as the reason this problem remains largely unsolved."
Ms. Dissell told us that what motivated her to write this series was her young son testing high for lead exposure and being told that it would be a six to nine month wait for the city to inspect her house because there was only one person assigned to do this at the time and Ms. Walker Minor talked about how more funds have been allocated since then and her high hopes for the "Healthy Homes" initiative which will address all kinds of safety issues like lead poisoning, asthma, smoke detectors and accidents like elderly people being hurt by falling.
Mr. Cole talked about efforts to combat this problem in Toledo and suggested that the role model should be Rochester, New York which implemented a program in 2006 which has reduced lead poisoning by 85%. Let us point out that the main problem is buildings/homes/apartments that were built before 1978 when new building standards were enforced.
It was emphasized that information has come forward that shows that a child's mental and physical well-being is often affected by being exposed to lead at an early age when youngsters like to crawl and put things in their mouths. Ms. Flood shared her personal experiences treating sometimes 10 to 15 children a week who have been poisoned by lead and how she often has to create a plan to provide a family with immediate assistance. She suggested that little things such as removing one's shoes before entering the house and the frequent damp moping of floors can help a great deal.
During the Q and A, we asked Ms. Flood if she ever treated any immigrant/refugee children. Ms. Flood told us that she had indeed and had told us of a small child who immigrated to the United States from Iraq who tested very dangerously high for lead poisoning. She went on to say that compared to other countries and regions of the world, namely Eastern Europe, Mexico and the Middle East, our building standards are much better. Therefore, she urges immigrant families to take their children to a primary care doctor who can accurately test and treat them if necessary. Along these lines, we sat with Mr. Spencer Ellis who is actively involved in the fight against lead poisoning who recalled that one of the "Plain Dealer" articles talked about a refugee family from Syria who tested quite high.
Also sharing our table was Ms. Ria Mittal, a Biology major at CWRU who is very passionate about addressing this problem. She is helping to organize an event in the latter part of November that will deal with this problem and promised to send us more information.
Lastly, we enjoyed meeting several young people who are involved with "Fresh Camp" which was described by Mr.Lee Harrill, who mentors them, as a "youth driven hip hop music production company." About five members of this company have created a CD titled "Drop the Lead" that contains songs specifically dealing with the lead poisoning crisis; one of them is called is called "Forgotten Homes." This group was profiled by Ms. Dissell in an article titled "Teens take aim at lead poisoning crisis with 'Forgotten Homes' track" dated September 22nd, 2016 that is available on cleveland.com We urge everyone to check it out because it has been our experience that activism of this kind can be most effective particularly when it involves young people who are directly affected by the problem and what the rest of us do about it.
Margaret W. Wong & Assoc. Co., LLC