The Minnesota Department of Health declares ( burden report page 8 ) “(t)here is no safe level of exposure to lead.” So far so good. The Department also says “(e)levated blood lead levels in young children are associated with adverse health effects, including learning impairment, behavioral problems and even death at very high levels” and “(t)esting for lead poisoning is important as it often occurs with no identifiable symptoms.” There is scientific consensus supporting these statements.
But then the Department tells us that their standard for investigation and remediation of lead sources is 5 ug/dL. How can this be?
Many years ago several colleagues and I tried to get the Department of Health to reduce the threshold for an elevated blood level which was then at 10 ug/dL. We were unsuccessful. The reason given by the Department was cost. The Department was unwilling to ask for the necessary appropriation.
In “The Costs of Childhood Blood Lead Poisoning” section of its “Economic Burden of the Environment on Childhood Disease in Minnesota 2014,” the Department of Health points out that the economic burden of childhood lead poisoning in Minnesota is enormous. It does not do a similar calculation of the cost of prevention.
However, the report does point out that children in poverty are at greater risk for lead poisoning. The report does not say that these children are disproportionately children of color, but that is likely the case.
Flint is the billboard that states the obvious. Elevated lead levels would not have been tolerated if the children involved were all middle class, all white.
The Minnesota Department of Health does not need additional legislative authority to do what needs to be done and that is set the lead level for children at zero. After all, it already knows the science: “(t)here is no safe level of exposure to lead.”