For decades, a sound national strategy to reduce children's lead exposure made significant progress. Despite this progress, today a half of million children have elevated blood lead levels (according to CDC's current standards) with poor and minority children at greatest risk.1
Updating the national strategy
Given that there is no safe level of lead exposure, we need to update our strategy and renew our national commitment to better protect children from this toxic legacy.
A new strategy should include the following components:
- Change our approach to reducing lead in drinking water. We need to make removal of lead service lines a priority, not a last resort.
- Update existing regulations. The current rules and standards for paint, pipes and other sources must better reflect what we know today about the exposure risks.
- Improve the communications. We need to develop clear, accurate and evidenced-based information about exposure and what actions people can take to reduce their risk.
- Resolve to implement the strategy. A strategy does little good if it is just sits on a shelf.
History of U.S. lead policy
Since the 1970s, the federal government has established an array of policies designed to reduce childhood exposure to lead. See more details on 40 years of federal actions to reduce exposure »
Initially, the government's focus was on removing lead from consumer products like gasoline, paint and metal food cans - and controlling industrial emissions of lead. Blood lead levels dropped dramatically because of these policies.
But by the late 1980s – as evidence of lead's harm to children became even more compelling – it became clear that more was needed.
Federal policies were expanded to address the legacy lead in our homes and drinking water. Goals were set to monitor children – and the contaminated water, dust, and soil that expose them to lead. The federal government established standards defining how to keep the lead in the paint and pipes and away from children. For hard-to-manage items like lead-painted windows, removal was the preferred option.
With this comprehensive strategy in place since the early 1990s we have seen reductions in children's blood lead levels, but there is still much to do.