Enforce lead standards

Editorial - June 2005


Lead is a highly toxic metal that ... may cause a range of health effects, from behavioral problems and learning disabilities, to seizures and death. Children 6 years old and under are most at risk... .”

Those words open the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s section on lead on its Web site. That means the government understands, as we do, that lead poisoning can be devastating.

Unlike us, however, the government doesn’t appear to understand that this debilitating disease is completely preventable. The EPA has not even complied with a law requiring it to mandate by 1996 that construction workers—the people who scrape away lead paint—be trained and certified to ensure lead paint is removed safely.

Now, the EPA is considering asking contractors to voluntarily adopt safe practices—instead of requiring them to do so. This even though a 2002 study by the agency shows mandatory regulations of home renovation and remodeling could protect 1.4 million children and prevent 28,000 lead-related illnesses every year.

U.S. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan have written to the EPA to protest this plan and urge that the agency meet its legal requirement to create and implement mandatory lead-removal rules.

We couldn’t agree more.

Chicago Parent’s exhaustive investigative report on the hazards of lead poisoning in children (October 2004) showed a child living in Chicago is more likely to be poisoned by lead than a child anywhere else in America. We’re a far cry from meeting the federal government’s own goal of eliminating lead poisoning by 2010.

Let’s pretend for a moment that we are home rehabbers. We have the choice: Spend time and money to train our crew to safely remove lead paint and contain the poisonous dust left behind. Or hire a guy and hand him a scraper. 

Perhaps we should pretend to own a multiunit apartment building filled with peeling lead paint that flakes to the apartment floor where our tenant’s baby crawls. Do we hire a crew trained and certified in the proper lead-removal technique because we care about the health of our tenants?  Or do we open the Yellow Pages to “contractors” and search for the lowest cost, regardless of what price our tenant’s baby will pay for that choice?

Call us cynical, but we don’t expect most contractors to opt for training and we don’t expect most landlords to opt for qualified.

The government says it is considering the changes to save money for homeowners as well as contractors. We agree it might make that new kitchen a little cheaper—but that’s only if you don’t count the cost of a lead-poisoned child.

Star Wars’ darker side When it comes to protecting our kids from the marketing muscle of Hollywood, the force is rarely with us parents. But, when it comes to the Chewbacca-size marketing machine of George Lucas and his Star Wars franchise, it’s hard not to think that Lucas has succumbed to the Dark Side.

First, he makes “Revenge of the Sith” in such a violent way that it gets a PG-13 rating and leads the Jedi master himself to warn parents it might not be appropriate for younger children.

But, as our favorite cultural critic, Susan Linn of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, points out, it hasn’t stopped Lucas from using his Jedi mind tricks on those same young kids. Lucas sold the Star Wars aura to 25 different snack products, most with zero nutritional value. And he did it in a way that ensures our kids will hound us to buy them over and over. (Case in point: the 72 collectible Star Wars M&M’s wrappers. That’s 45 pounds of M&M’s to collect them all, and 440 calories, 19 grams of fat and 56.5 grams of sugar for the smallest 3.14-ounce bag. )

Obesity is an epidemic among our children. And being overweight can mean a lifetime of potentially serious health problems. With all that in mind, we can’t help but be disappointed that in this Star Wars saga, evil is triumphing over good.


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