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Children's Health

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Lead Poisoning a Lingering Problem for Nation's Kids


These days, the most important source of childhood lead exposure is lead-based paint. Government figures suggest that one in four U.S. residences -- or 25 million homes -- have significant lead-based paint hazards that could pose a danger to young children. The risks are greatest for low-income children living in older housing. In fact, it is estimated that 16% of low-income kids under age 6 have some degree of lead poisoning, compared with around 4% of all children in this age group.

The federal government's goal is to eliminate childhood lead poisoning by the year 2010 through public awareness efforts and grant programs. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has requested a total of $110 million next year for lead hazard reduction in publicly assisted housing.

But John F. Rosen, MD, who runs the lead program at New York's Children's Hospital at Montefiore in the Bronx, says this effort is just a "Band-Aid approach" to the problem. The only way to eliminate the risk of childhood lead poisoning, he says, is to remove all lead-based paint, not just repair or patch the problem.

"As a national priority, houses built before 1960, all of which contain lead-based paint, have to be de-leaded permanently and forever, so that no child entering any of these houses is at risk," Rosen says. "I consider it a national disgrace that this has not happened."

Rosen, who wrote an editorial to accompany the Rogan study, points to a 1991 cost analysis conducted by the CDC. That report suggested that $20 billion spent to remove lead paint from the nation's older houses would actually save billions in healthcare dollars.

"As long as lead paint exists, it is a ticking time bomb," Rosen says. "Sooner or later it is going to deteriorate, and it is going to poison young children. The current approach of the federal government is to put Band-Aids on those surfaces that are the worst. But if you have a disease, you want a total cure. This is only bringing your temperature down from 106( to 104( and saying you're cured."

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