Asthma, lead poisoning preventable, if government cared. Why is a child living in Chicago more likely than a child anywhere else in America to be poisoned by lead? Why is a child living in the six-county Chicago metropolitan area more likely than a child anywhere else in the country to suffer from asthma?
Why should either of those illnesses be more prevalent in the Chicago area when we know how to prevent and treat them? Because our government and public health officials, the people whom we trust to protect us and help us protect our children, have failed. In some cases, we're told, it's because there's no money. In most cases, it's because there's no political will to ensure our children are healthy.
In an exhaustive investigation conducted jointly with the highly respected monthly, The Chicago Reporter, we found that the high incidence of asthma and lead poisoning are not news to government and public health officials.
They already know how serious the problem is in Chicago, suburban Cook County and the five collar counties. They've known for years. They just haven't done much about it. They aren't even following the federal guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that require them to collect data on asthma hospitalizations.
You would think government officials would at least want to know how many children are affected by asthma-the CDC says quantifying the problem is crucial. Asthma is manageable. Educating children and their families and ensuring they have proper treatment can prevent serious attacks. But the state has no systematic way to find these children until they have a life-threatening asthma attack that lands them in a hospital.
That is inexcusable when there's money that could be used to fight asthma.
Consider, for example, the $305 million Illinois will receive from the national tobacco settlement in 2005. A state spokeswoman says 97 percent of that money is being used to pay for health care in the strapped state budget. Only $13 million will go to tobacco prevention programs.
On the upside, Illinois spent $200,000 last year for two grants to private agencies to study the asthma problem in Chicago. But it's a very small upside.
We agree with the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids: More money should be spent on tobacco prevention. Since cigarette smoke is one of the biggest asthma triggers, we believe helping people quit smoking would save taxpayers money down the road. Certainly it would save countless children from suffering the anguish of struggling to breath during an asthma attack.
Lead poisoning does not have to happen either. Lead paint-the largest threat to children's health-can be cleaned up and removed from older housing stock. And the government can't claim poor here. There is money. But inefficiency keeps it from getting to certain neighborhoods.
Chicago is home to 70 percent of the state's lead-poisoned children and gets just 40 percent of the $34 million in federal money spent since 2000 to help landlords and homeowners in Illinois clean up their property.
And, although Chicago is home to 93 percent of the lead-poisoned children in Cook County, the city gets only 74 percent of Cook County's lead money.
We can't help thinking this laissez faire attitude toward asthma and lead poisoning has something to do with the fact that both diseases are concentrated in low-income minority communities.
This is ridiculous. It is an outrage.
We realize parents need to accept their responsibilities here. Don't smoke. It's that simple. Check your house for lead. Make sure your doctor knows if you live in a house built before lead paint was outlawed in 1978. If you do, get your child a blood test. Do it now. It's possible to counteract the effects of lead on a developing brain, but the earlier you start, the less damage there will be.
Still, even if we, as parents, do our part, we should expect government would have stepped in to address these two serious problems.
We shouldn't be leading in the incidence of lead poisoning and asthma, we should be leading in the fight against them.