1. Jacobs, David E. PhD, CIH
  2. Brown, Mary Jean ScD


Context: Childhood lead poisoning prevention in the United States was marked by a largely failed medical approach from 1971 to 1990; an emergent (but small) healthy housing primary prevention strategy from 1991 to 2015; and implementation of large-scale proven interventions since then.


Program: Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention & Healthy Housing.


Methods: Historic and recent health and housing data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) and the American Healthy Homes Survey (AHHS) were retrieved to analyze trends and associated policy gaps.


Evaluation: Approximately 590 000 US children aged 1 through 5 years had elevated blood lead levels of 3.5 [mu]g/dL and greater in 2016, and 4.3 million children resided in homes with lead paint in 2019. Despite large improvements, racial and other disparities remain stubbornly and statistically significant. The NHANES and the AHHS require larger sample sizes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not published children's blood lead surveillance and NHANES data in several years; the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has no analogous housing surveillance system; and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) have not updated training, Superfund, and occupational standards in decades.


Discussion: The nation has been without a plan and an associated budget for more than 2 decades. Congress has not reformed the nation's main lead poisoning prevention laws in more than 30 years. Such reforms include stopping US companies from producing new residential lead paint in other countries; enabling the disclosure law to identify all residential lead hazards; closing loopholes in federally assisted housing regulations and mortgage insurance standards; harnessing tax policy to help homeowners mitigate lead hazards; streamlining training requirements; increasing the size of health and housing surveys and surveillance systems; and updating housing codes, medical guidance, dust lead standards, training, Superfund, and worker exposure limits. Congress and the president should reauthorize a cabinet-level task force (dormant since 2010) to develop a new strategic plan with an interagency budget to implement it. These reforms will scale and optimize markets, subsidies, enforcement, and other proven interventions to end ineffective, costly, harmful, and irrational cost shifting that threatens children, workers, and affordable housing.