Lead poisoning persists in Chicago

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A recent study of Chicago children found that in three-fourths of CPS schools, the average blood lead levels of students was high enough to be considered poisoned, Megan Contrell reports at the Chicago Reader.

Lead poisoning can cause a range of health problems including neurological damage and learning disabilities.  Looking at data from CPS, the study showed that even lower levels of lead poisoning can affect test scores and other measures of achievement.

One expert calls it “the low-hanging fruit of education reform.”

But efforts to combat lead poisoning have lagged as funding for prevention has been cut. The Centers for Disease Control’s budget for lead poisoning prevention was reduced by 90 percent this year.

In Englewood, which has the highest lead poisoning rates in the nation, the community group Imagine Englewood If works with parents and landlords to increase awareness.  The group is also pushing for restoration of state funding to test schoolchildren.

The Metropolitan Tenants Organization is preparing an ordinance requiring testing of all apartments for lead levels (currently they are tested if a child is found to be poisoned).  But the group has not yet found an alderman to sponsor the ordinance.

“Lead poisoning is one of the few causes of social and learning problems that we know how to solve,” said Anita Weinberg, director of Lead Safe Housing Initiatives at Loyola University.  “We can resolve this problem within a generation, but it’s not a priority for the city.”

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