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Economy

Why Lead Paint Still Haunts Industrial Cities in the U.S.

Decades after the federal government banned consumer uses of lead paint, children are still being poisoned in their own homes.
The sun sets behind a mural of the late Freddie Gray in Baltimore. Though he would eventually symbolize a far more visible tragedy, his life also represents that of many young children in Baltimore who have been poisoned by lead paint.
The sun sets behind a mural of the late Freddie Gray in Baltimore. Though he would eventually symbolize a far more visible tragedy, his life also represents that of many young children in Baltimore who have been poisoned by lead paint.REUTERS/Bryan Woolston

One milligram of dust. That’s all the lead it takes to poison a child—the equivalent of three granules of sugar. Years before his death, Freddie Gray was found to have 35 micrograms of lead in his blood—seven times the amount that can impair brain development, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Though Gray would eventually symbolize a far more visible tragedy, his life also represents that of many young children in Baltimore who have been devastatingly poisoned by lead paint. In fact, lead poisoning has become so common in Baltimore ghettos that local children are often referred to as “lead kids.”

For these children, exposure to dust caused by the chipping, flaking, or peeling of lead-based paint poses serious, and sometimes fatal, health risks. Among a host of other issues, lead poisoning can lead to permanent brain damage, which often results in learning disabilities and increased violent behavior. According to the Green & Healthy Homes Initiative, a national organization working to combat lead poisoning, children who have been poisoned are seven times more likely to drop out of school and six times more likely to end up in the juvenile justice system.