Lead poisoning is a public health crisis. Ohio’s cities should act now: Sterling Shriber and Palak Rath

AKRON, Ohio -- Lead is a poison that too often contaminates many aspects of urban life, inflicting widespread disease and disability. That burden is especially high in the Rust Belt, in cities like Akron and Cleveland, and the effects are felt disproportionately by the poor and marginalized, with children being the most vulnerable. For decades, states and the federal government have lagged in taking meaningful action. Little progress will come from waiting any longer. Local communities can come together to confront the issue, and cities must now take action where they can.

Nationwide, 1.9% of children have blood lead levels above the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s reference threshold. Communities of color, and lower-income communities, are at increased risk. In inner city neighborhoods with older housing stock, the burden is highest: More than one in four Cleveland Metropolitan School District kindergarteners who are screened have had elevated blood lead levels.

The effects of lead strike early: developmental problems; behavioral difficulties; and issues in school. They also linger throughout life: lower academic achievement; decreased employment; and increased usage of social services and the criminal justice system.