Blog Focuses on Lead Poisoning of Children in Communities of Color

A blog post in HealthAffairs by Emily Benfer, a senior fellow and distinguished visiting scholar at the Yale Law School, describes the extent to which minority children are disproportionately affected by lead-based paint hazards and the prevalence of lead-based paint hazards in HUD-assisted homes, and it criticizes a limitation of HUD’s recently revised lead-based paint rule.

In “Contaminated Childhood: The Chronic Lead Poisoning of Low-Income Children and Communities of Color in the United States,” Ms. Benfer writes: “The medical and public health fields and numerous federal agencies agree: There is no safe level of lead in the blood. The effect of lead poisoning on major bodily systems is permanent, and no amount of clinical or public health intervention can reverse it. For this reason, the American Academy of Pediatrics has consistently recommended the adoption of policies that require the identification of lead hazards before a child is exposed to them.”

Ms. Benfer notes, however, that “with few exceptions, federal, state, and local policies only require lead hazard identification and remediation after a child develops lead poisoning.” For instance, HUD’s updated lead rule (see Memo, 9/6/16) does not require pre-rental lead hazard risk assessments in the Housing Choice Voucher program or in the Project-Based Section 8 program for units receiving less than $5,000 in assistance.

“Despite the federal mandate to affirmatively further fair housing, the majority of federally assisted housing is clustered in low-income, segregated areas at high risk of lead poisoning,” Ms. Benfer writes. “Decades of government-sanctioned discriminatory practices have burdened communities of color with increased poverty, segregation, substandard housing, and environmental hazards. . . . The risk of lead poisoning falls disproportionately on minority children, with black children nearly three times more likely than white children to have elevated blood-lead levels.”

Ms. Benfer continues, “Racial bias explains, in great part, the lack of robust lead poisoning prevention policies and the persistently high rates of lead poisoning among communities of color.” She notes that when Vice President Mike Pence was governor of Indiana in 2016, he refused to provide disaster relief to help families move out of the toxic West Calumet Housing Complex in East Chicago, IN where the population is 99% black. Then-Governor Pence did, however, provide assistance to Greentown, IN, where the population is 97% white, when the lead content of its water was slightly elevated.

Emily A. Benfer is a senior fellow and distinguished visiting scholar at the Yale Law School, Solomon Center for Health Law and Policy. Prior to joining the Yale Law School, Ms. Benfer was a clinical professor of law at Loyola University Chicago School of Law, and Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine, Department of Public Health. She founded and directed the Health Justice Project.

The blog post is at:

More information about lead hazard control and healthy housing is on page 5-6 of NLIHC’s 2017 Advocates’ Guide at: