American’s Pernicious Poison

Lead’s natural abundance helped make it ubiquitous in construction and paint for decades—yet just a tiny amount can leave a child with irreversible cognitive deficits.

“A sugar-size packet of lead dust throughout a two-bedroom home is enough to create a lead-poisoned child,” says Helen Meier, a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee epidemiology professor.

Now, about 500,000 American children under 5—disproportionately children of color—have dangerous blood-lead levels; the US spends ~$15 billion on new cases each year. Flushing the poison from the environment would take about $500 billion.

But the costs of failure could be much expensive, writes Andrew Zaleski.

The Quote: “Everybody knew lead was toxic,” writes Mona Hanna-Attisha, in her book, What the Eyes Don’t See. “[B]ut what it did to the human body was insidious and invisible, while its benefit to industry was tangible and quantifiable in dollars.”


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