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Opinion: Regarding the CDC’s “2020 Healthy Family” goal…

cdc2The images here are screenshots taken from the CDC’s current lead program home page (December 3, 2015… as we head into 2016.) This home page’s message, the “Healthy People 2020” goal, is eerily similar to their statements prior to 2010 and their “2010 Goal” of eliminating childhood lead poisoning. (Click here to see a screenshots of their home page from 2011 and 2012.)

We all know the quote:

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” – [true origin unknown]

The CDC’s course of action over the past 10 years since my own children were poisoned seems like good illustration of this aphorism.

CDC program administrators have been doing nothing different between 2010 and 2016 that would put them on course to meet their [recycled] 2020 goal. From my perspective, all they have been doing (spending the majority of their time doing) is scrambling for the funding to keep their salaries going. That and change/refine their language – to lower their action level, continue their woefully (orders-of-magnitude insufficient) grant distribution of $XXX for X cities) – imagine if this were, say Ebola…  you can’t have a goal to “eliminate lead poisoning”, a goal of “no BLL over 10” – essentially the same goals from 2010 – proudly proclaimed as “new goals for 2020″!.

The 2015 public statements shown here have just further defined their existing unmet goal to be a more specific unmet goal: “eliminating blood lead levels greater than or equal to ten micrograms per deciliter…” while also publicly stating a message that is seemingly contradictory: that “no level of lead is safe”.  Why would you have a goal to merely eliminate blood lead levels “over 10” (micrograms per deciliter) – when “no level is safe”? Especially give their current “action level” or “level of concern” is published as being 5 micrograms per deciliter!? [Maybe when dusting off their 2010 goal statement for reuse in 2020, they forgot to update language derived from their  old “10” level to their new “5” level—a simple editing oversight?!]

In addition to not taking new or meaningful action towards meeting their goal, the current CDC administration has also crafted misleading language in their public statements that – in fact – has the opposite impact of what one might expect (their intention/focus should have been).  As a result of the language they have chosen, the majority of pediatricians across the country interpret that to mean that anything under a blood lead level of 5 is “safe” or “normal” [and of course, after more than a decade of the old language, many still explicitly communicate to their patients that a blood lead level under 10 is “okay”!]

Additionally, their statement that they want to eliminate “differences in average risk based on race and social class as public health concerns” when it comes to lead poisoning is also a bit of a [sick] joke; there are no significant differences based on race and social class as a public health concern – so by default, if they simply stop focusing on those false considerations as factors in childhood lead poisoning they would instantly achieve that goal! Lead poisoning does not discriminate; there is ONE risk: if you are exposed to lead you are at risk of being lead poisoned. Scientific studies directly impacted by lead industry influence and cynically crafted to perpetuate the myth that this is a “low-income black”* problem are the source of the misleading messaging that this is a “low income” or “minorities” problem at all— and therefore a problem that middle-income white folks who live in nice/clean homes need not be concerned about. The moment this country wakes up to the fact that we are all impacted by lead, that we all likely have an unsafe level of lead in our blood (especially with the statement and scientifically backed finding that “no level of lead is safe”) – is going to be the moment that the tide on this issue changes. Period.

*sanitized sometimes as “low-income minorities” or sometimes even further as a mythical, non-specific “at-risk demographic”

The cause of this institutional dysfunction/impotence (the counterproductive and misleading messaging – as well as the fact that no concrete specific new and different actions are being undertaken in a new way on a national scale to eliminate the problem of early childhood lead poisoning) is the CDC’s leadership—leadership that has been constantly wanting to just adjust/shift/rework the language of the program to help make it seem like they are making meaningful progress… to alter the language of the program so it looks like they come closer to meeting their goals. NOTE: Shifting the language /changing the parameters of epidemiological inquiries to create the illusion of great strides towards your [decade(s)-old] unmet goal(s) is not going to protect children from being poisoned.

Let’s do something different for a change, so we can get different results… results where children are actually protected from being poisoned. “Doing something different” starts with new CDC Lead Poisoning Prevention Program leadership—leadership that has not been found guilty (via a congressional investigation) of making public statements that in the end lead to the poisoning of at least hundreds (and more likely thousands) of children in our nation’s capitol.

The CDC’s main role in this issue (given their ongoing limited funding) is public messaging** and—when it comes to childhood lead poisoning—in my view, they have a long way to go before they could be credibly considered to be succeeding in that role.

Tamara Rubin
Executive Director
Lead Safe America

**Other elements new leadership might want to consider to actually reach (for example) a 2030 goal of childhood lead poisoning prevention/ elimination… (the CDC could use the work of our award-winning, mama-founded, underfunded little Lead Safe America Foundation as an example):

  • Parent engagement – using social media platforms (as Lead Safe America does)… reaching parents where parents today actually get their information
  • National PSAs (like Lead Safe America currently has, on radio stations across the country)
  • Parent education (giving parents tools and information – like free lead-paint test kits and concrete steps to protect their families)
  • Not limiting education funding to education programs targeted at low-income families
  • Pediatrician education – focusing on the fact that no level of lead is safe, and encouraging older pediatricians (who have been practicing longer) to get current on the new standards and concerns (as Lead Safe America has been doing in collaboration with state, county and city agencies across the country – offering free public education events with CEUs for pediatricians, nurses and childcare providers.)



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