Thank you, Cindy Crawford!
Thank you for taking a public stand against exposing our children to the toxic soup of extremely dangerous industrial chemicals still present in far too many schools and classrooms (in even the most prestigious communities) in the U.S., and thereby dragging the media spotlight over to where it can shed some light on the shameful absence of any regulatory agency or legislation aimed at protecting children’s health from environmental hazards in schools and day-cares in this country.
I am not Cindy Crawford…I too have been struggling to raise awareness of these issues—but not being a celebrity, when I make the choice to not send my kids to our neighborhood school when school starts next Tuesday—a decision I have been wrestling with for months—because it too has tested positive for extremely unsafe levels of environmental toxicants… it is unlikely that anyone will notice.
This same protective act of parenting (predicated on the same intention and the same understanding of pollutants that Cindy has) will not be heralded in…
and the Today Show
Yet, just like in Cindy’s case – my concern is not only over the risk posed to my own children but for the risk to all children spending their days in school buildings that are contaminated with industrial pollutants, such as the aging lead paint applied decades ago and the microscopic (airborne) lead-dust particles that are its legacy and the primary source of the neurotoxic lead exposure that is now recognized to be a significant contributor to the geometric rise in the appearance of cognitive impairments and learning disorders among schoolchildren in the U.S..
Most older (pre-1980) American urban school buildings have lead paint hazards—caused not by renovation (which is illegal and regulated) but by deferred maintenance (which is not illegal and not regulated – not federally regulated in any way what-so-ever.)
I think the attention Cindy has brought to the issue of toxicants in schools is terrific – but it also makes me truly ponder the why behind PCBs getting so much attention now and lead still getting so little.
Starting with basics (you’ve already found my website so you probably know a little) – lead poisoning causes immediate, permanent brain damage—brain damage that significantly impacts a child’s ability to learn, so lead in schools is an especially ironic hazard. Lead exposure makes it hard for kids to sit still in class, makes it hard for them to focus and makes it harder for them to understand what the teachers are trying to teach, and harder still for them to retain the information that is being taught.
An example: My most severely lead-poisoned son is very bright—he has an overall I.Q. of 130, but his visual memory is in the 4th percentile! He’s reading at a pre-K level—and he’s headed in to 4th grade this fall (that is, if we can find a reasonably safe place for him to go to school)! Because visual memory depends on the particular area of his brain that was damaged by his lead exposure, he can’t remember the shapes of letters long enough to form them into words visually.
It helps any cause to have a sexy supermodel speak out to make an issue “sexy” – and I think that’s one of the whys behind the fact that the lead issue is so “hidden”, despite being ubiquitous in our older schools and homes—we haven’t yet had any big celebrity champion this cause (…yet).
But it goes much deeper than that: a report on environmental toxicity (by Dr. Leonardo Trasande, the same expert interviewed for Cindy Crawford’s Today Show piece linked above and also one of the experts featured in my upcoming film, MisLEAD: America’s Secret Epidemic) estimated that environmental pollutants cost the U.S. $76.6 billion annually, in terms of the economic impacts of medical and long-term effects on our children (impacts ranging from hospitalization to lost earning potential due to lost I.Q. points) – and of that cost, a whopping $50.9 billion is due to lead. $50.9 billion amounts to more than 2/3 of the total (conservative) annual cost of environmental toxicity—yet maybe 1/100th of our attention on environmental toxicity is focused on lead – and even that bit of attention is fleeting.
My film thoroughly explores this paradox (it’s much bigger than a blog-post can get into), but look into the heavy lead-industry influence on our government and public policy over the last 100+ years and you will find the more obvious answers – more of the whys.
In the meantime – where the #$%@ am I going to send my 9 year old and my 6 year old to school this year?
(This year?—next week?!)
No, alas, I am not Cindy Crawford; I overspent my babysitting budget this summer and there are no reserves on hand for a private school.
I am not Cindy Crawford; I can’t choose to keep them home and home-school until the hazards are cleaned up if I also want keep the lights turned on and food on the table (although that is the choice most likely of my current options.)
I am not Cindy Crawford; I can’t call on my celebrity friends and influence- get national news coverage by the likes of Maria Shriver and ask them to get the hazards at my neighborhood schools cleaned up in record time—or offer to pay for the testing to be done [although I can bring my donated $40,000 XRF instrument into the school and do the testing for free, but the school officials won’t LET me do that!… officially 😉 ]
I have no idea where my two youngest kids are going to go to school next week, and I really WANT them to have the social benefits (as well as the scholastic benefits) of a school environment (vs. home-schooling.)
Here are my choices:
Where I tested the window sills myself with my XRF and found them to be in excess of 40,000 ppm lead? And where the cracking, peeling, chipping lead paint on the radiators near the first grade rooms was more than 5,000 ppm lead?
Built in 1925 – so likely the same as the other two! I haven’t tested there yet – but a trip over there in the near future is on my to do list!
Hey Cindy – can you help me bring attention to the lead issue? (& I can help you too! They are the same overarching issue really – just different facets.) I need a pep-talk right about now to get re-inspired (especially in light of my current conundrum of having no idea where my kids are going to school in less than a week!), and it would be fun to join forces on this one!
I would really appreciate it!
If you like, I could fly down to California (I’m free this Friday!) with my top-of-the-line Niton X-Ray Fluorescence Spectrometer and we could do some guerrilla testing of schools (“for fun”!) My instrument tests for all heavy metals (arsenic, lead, cadmium, mercury – and I am trained and certified to use it – and can probably find a local hazard assessor we could work with too – to make things official!)
Executive Director, Lead Safe America Foundation (& mother of four sons)