The health impacts of lead contamination have gained renewed attention from the Biden administration. As part of the American Jobs Plan, it has focused on one aspect of exposure, calling on Congress to invest $45 billion to eliminate and replace the nation’s aging lead pipes and water service lines. The proposal, however, lacks support from Republican lawmakers, and does not address other sources of lead exposure that still plague the nation.
Though Congress banned lead-based paint in 1978 and lead pipes in 1986, they continue to be a hazard in older buildings. The Biden administration estimates 6 million to 10 million homes still use lead pipes. Roughly 37 million have some amount of lead paint, the Department of Housing and Urban Development estimates.
Children are especially vulnerable to damage from lead because of their rapid development. Those of color and kids living in poverty are at greatest danger. Black children are three times more likely to have high lead levels in their blood than white children, according to the National Academy for State Health Policy.
Biogeochemist Gabriel Filippelli is executive director of Indiana University’s Environmental Resilience Institute, which researches climate change and its impact on public health and infrastructure.
In a 2018 study, Filippelli and a team of researchers found that despite high levels of lead in the blood of children living in South Bend, where Black residents make up more than a quarter of the population, children were inconsistently tested.
Data collection and reporting also were poor: 30% of children in the study had missing race data, and more than half had missing ethnicity.
“To move toward equity you have to over-test (those) populations,” Filippelli said.