Lead is a highly toxic metal that can have irreversible health impacts, especially on children, causing permanent injuries to their developing brains and bodies. Children with elevated blood lead levels from 1999-2010 in the U.S. was 1.2 million. Pipes delivering drinking water can contain lead, and today there are still about 6 million lead pipes endangering 10 million people, many living in low-income areas. Another source of lead is in paint found in older homes. This peeling or damaged paint puts children at risk for lead exposure.
Here in New York, NYLCV is working to combat lead poisoning and released a report last year which showed that the most critical step towards eliminating lead poisoning is stronger enforcement of current laws. NYLCV is also analyzing lab reports from public schools to model the impact of a lower lead action level to ensure that our public schools are not contributing to childhood lead poisoning in New York
Because of this environmental issue of national importance, we examined the current presidential candidates’ positions on lead poisoning prevention by looking at their campaign platforms, plans, and statements.
A few candidates are vocal and detailed in their statements or plans.
Former Housing & Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro presents a formal lead abatement plan as part of his campaign platform. His plan includes more funding for lead poisoning prevention and lead remediation. He also wants to create a Presidential Taskforce on Lead in Communities that would coordinate efforts by federal and local agencies.
Senator Cory Booker does not have a formal lead poisoning prevention plan but he cites Newark and Camden, NJ as danger zones for lead in water. He also points to many other cities in the U.S. with elevated blood lead levels and the need to invest in infrastructure to provide clean air and water.
Former Vice President Joe Biden also does not have a formal lead poisoning prevention plan but does include it as part of his plan to combat climate change. He mentions a community-based planning process that can provide access to safe drinking water. Biden also has previous experience in combating lead poisoning. While he was running for Vice President, the Obama/Biden campaign included protecting children and families from lead poisoning as a priority and pointed to then-Senator Obama’s proposed bills to ban children’s products containing lead, to require childcare facilities to be lead-free, and his fight to require the Environmental Protection Agency to better regulate how construction workers deal with lead.
Mayor Pete Buttigieg mentions protecting rural communities from environmental hazards like lead as part of his campaign platform.
Other candidates don’t mention any specifics about lead poisoning in their campaign platforms but have made reference to environmental hazards in their speeches or while in governmental office.
Senator Kamala Harris pointed to her action combating lead poisoning while in office. She created an environmental justice unit as California Attorney General, which did some work on lead poisoning prevention. She also introduced the Water Justice Act while in the U.S. Senate that protects the nation’s water supply by testing for and removing water contaminants and by replacing lead pipes.
Senator Elizabeth Warren also demonstrated concern for lead poisoning while in office. In a speech to Congress, she highlighted the Flint, MI water crisis and blamed the State’s government for not taking appropriate action. She also made a Congressional inquiry regarding health hazards and lead poisoning in substandard military housing, sending letters to construction companies and contractors to resolve the problems.
Senator Bernie Sanders condemned the Flint water crisis by demanding that Michigan governor Rick Snyder resign, since he knew about the lead poisoning crisis but did nothing.
NYLCV will also continue to advocate for plans and policies that combat lead poisoning.