On February 1st, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will vote on sending current Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s (R) nomination to the full Senate. During his hearing two weeks ago for the position of administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Pruitt acknowledged his lack of familiarity with the scientific research on lead poisoning. But it should be noted that the debate still continues amongst scientists on how much is too much, or too little, to consider harmful.
Because of President Donald Trump’s recent media blackout and freeze on EPA grants, the people of Michigan are now asking if Flint will be impacted in the wake of their lead crisis.
Gerald Markowitz and David Rosner, authors of Lead Wars: The Politics of Science and the Fate of America’s Children, have prominently discussed their concerns about lead. Markowtiz and Rosner write about what lead has meant to Flint and other communities like it:
[L]ead poisoning as it has been commonly portrayed does not affect all of us in society evenly but rather is particularly damaging to those who live in the older, rundown, more dilapidated neighborhoods of our fading urban centers, where lead paint is most likely to be exposed. As such, those who make the decisions about what our priorities are as a society and what risks we are willing to take with our children’s lives often feel immune from the consequences of lead. … We can believe that lead poisoning—along with other environmental childhood threats such as asthma linked to mold and cockroaches, for example—will at some future date be all but eradicated as the rebuilding of our urban infrastructure, the gentrification of older neighborhoods, and the movement of peoples out of dilapidated structures eliminates the primary source of lead poisoning: the nation’s leaded housing stock.
But the authors note that we must continue to research lead’s full impact, especially children:
But self-satisfied complacency born of the successes of the past thirty years must be tempered by the growing body of research that shows lead to be a multiheaded hydra whose dangers are constantly being revealed in new forms. Each time we believe we have one lead danger under control, we are forced to confront another set of problems that challenge our science, our epidemiology, our morality, and our sense of social justice. …
Our common-sense assumptions, long held by toxicologists as well as the general public, that the higher the level of a poison, the more damage it causes, may not always be true. New research shows that the most serious damage from lead occurs at some of the lowest levels of exposure, often in utero or in the first years of life, when the neurological structures of the brain are forming. For example, compared to children with virtually no evidence of lead in their blood, the greatest effect of lead on IQ occurs in children with blood lead levels below 5 µg/dl. As blood lead levels climb above 5 µg/dl, IQ continues to decline but at a much slower rate. Similarly, endocrine disruptors such as bisphenol A have their greatest impact on physiological structures at the lowest levels of bioaccumulation, if exposure occurs at critical moments in fetal development. This raises troubling issues for toxicology and for society, because these data imply that other toxins may also defy the traditional dogma that the “dose makes the poison” and that lowering exposures lowers the risk. Unlike toxins whose acute effects disappear with the elimination of the poison, lead’s effect on the child’s brain is immediate and often permanent.
What are your thoughts on how the EPA, along with the Center for Disease Control and other agencies, should move forward with future research on lead?
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