Lead Poisoning Continues to Affect Baltimore’s Children, Decades after First Appearance
More than 1,000 of Baltimore's children -- "mostly black and poor" -- contract lead poisoning each year, and the "vast majority are being poisoned in the same squalid rowhouse neighborhoods that claimed so many lives a century ago," the Baltimore Sun reports. By 1962 -- "three decades after city recordkeeping began" -- lead poisoning accounted for the deaths of 129 children, while those who didn't die from the affliction often were "profoundly retarded, blind, deaf, unable to walk or talk." Lead poisoning "strikes mostly at poor children trapped in substandard rental houses built before 1960," the Sun reports, pointing out that between 1957 and 1962, black children accounted for nearly 90% of lead poisoning cases. Since the "plague" showed up in the early 1900s, several doctors and city officials have attempted to eradicate lead poisoning. Dr. Huntington Williams, who became the city's health commissioner in 1933, was a "tireless crusader" in the lead paint battle. Williams opened the nation's first municipal blood laboratory to handle pediatric lead poisoning samples, helped Baltimore become the first U.S. city to ban use of interior lead paint, instituted the first general blood screening program for children and began the nation's first lead paint inspection program. Other Baltimore doctors were "instrumental" in getting the 1978 federal lead paint ban passed. But "lead poisoning proved politically intractable" because the condition was not contagious and "black children could not spread it to the rest of the city," the Sun reports. In 1994, state officials rejected a recommendation that Maryland require all rental houses to undergo testing for lead dust. While the final version of the state's lead control law requires landlords to remove or cover flaking lead paint, "without mandatory dust testing to confirm that repairs have been done right, Maryland continues to poison its children at a rate more than 15 times the national average" (Haner, Baltimore Sun, 10/22).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.