According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than a half million children under the age of 6 are poisoned by lead each year, causing developmental and speech delays as well as long-term health effects on the kidneys, heart and brain.
That’s a shocking statistic in 2016 — so many years after lead was banned in paint and gasoline– but in the city of Flint MI, the idea of lead poisoning is more than a statistic. Thousands of Flint children have been exposed to high lead levels from their drinking water since 2014, and have waited far too long for help from the federal government to address a crisis that began nearly three years ago.
When you say something can’t happen soon enough, it rarely has been more true than in the case of the water resources bill that was finally passed by the House and Senate last week.
Safer Chemicals Healthy Families staff participated in the National Lead Summit early last week, which brought together leaders of the health, housing and environmental world to strategize around the goal of ending lead poisoning in the next five years. The lunchtime speaker at the summit was Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow, who sounded the alarm that late breaking changes to the bill were putting its passage in jeopardy in the last week that Congress was expected to be in session.
Our group of more than 250 advocates, scientists and health professionals took seriously her call to pick up the phone and urge the 114th Congress not to leave DC without passing a bill that gave relief to Flint and contained provisions that will help to prevent future lead crises. Safer Chemicals Healthy Families activists amplified the call throughout the week with your social media posts and phone calls.
This bill’s passage is certainly a case study in the crazy legislative chess game that happens at the end of a session, proving the old adage that says if you like sausage or legislation, you might not want to watch either being made.
On Thursday, the House voted 330-61, and then early Saturday morning, the Senate voted 78-21 to pass a package of legislation that authorizes $170 million to respond to the Flint water crisis, with additional resources to address the national problem of lead exposure. The bill (S. 612) is now on President Obama’s desk.