The Problem of Lead in a Trump Administration

In Buffalo, NY, Lacie Manzella’s three children had dangerously high levels of lead in their blood, resulting in nosebleeds and development disorders for her youngest son. County inspectors found at least 15 lead-based violations in her apartment. An investigation found four zip codes in Buffalo where 40% of children tested had high levels of lead in their blood, eight times greater than levels in Flint, MI. A similar story occurred in Oakland, CA, Stephanie Avila learned that her 18-month-old son had lead poisoning, with levels 10-times higher than the safety limit. In Avila’s neighborhood, 7.5% of children had elevated levels of lead, again more than Flint, MI.

Beyond these two examples, Reuters found 3,300 communities in which lead levels were double those found in Flint, MI, during the water crisis. Many of these communities are set to continue suffering from lead under Trump’s proposed budget cuts. At least eight of nine agencies responsible for lead poisoning prevention are targeted by the administration for budget cuts. The most significant cuts are to Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). If Trump’s budget is approved, HUD and EPA will see a combined $4.7 billion in budget cuts that play a significant role in lead pollution cleanup and prevention.

These cuts will have serious impacts on families. Manzella’s family was able to leave her lead contaminated apartment due to efforts from a local non-profit, which received funding to renovate houses from HUD. The Avilla family’s lead problem was the result of lead used in older homes that were never properly renovated. Under Trump’s proposed budget, the non-profit that supported the Manzellas is less likely to receive funding, while a program training private contractors in lead removal practices are on the chopping block in the EPA. These programs are vital to ensuring that environmental justice communities do not continue to bear the toxic harms associated with lead. Recent studies have found that as many as one out of five Americans are at risk of lead poisoning, meaning these programs also benefit a large number of Americans.

Additional budget cuts may also harm communities suffering from high levels of lead poisoning in different ways. East Chicago, IN, once housed a copper and lead smelter. Now, the location is listed on the National Priorities List, indicating that it is one of the most polluted sites in the country. This largely focuses on lead contaminations in the homes of residents, but many residents also point to the high levels of lead in their drinking water. Under the current regulatory approach outlined by Scott Pruit, the head of the EPA, water regulations and restoration projects will be phased out under the EPA. This creates a situation in which some communities are suffering decades of lead poisoning in their homes and their water, and the Trump administration is cutting funding for programs that would help them relocate and programs that would help clear their water supply.

This is an unacceptable exercise of federal regulatory power. As a society, we cannot poison our environments and place the health consequences of those actions on low-income communities or communities of color, only to abandon them when they need clean-up efforts. The good news is that Trump’s budget must pass Congress, which gives readers the opportunity to engage with this process. Call your Congressmen and demand that they support funding for programs that save lives.