Why do we pay so much attention to child lead poisoning? For starters, thousands (up to half) the kids in Trenton and older suburbs can be affected by it. Research is increasingly clear – even at low levels, lead impacts IQ, behavior, and other health factors. With all the talk of and investment in education reform, nothing would be more cost effective at increasing child IQ in a region than removing lead from the environment, especially from homes, where kids spend 70% of their time.
As importantly, despite lots of complex research and policy position papers and even financial investment, a basic problem prevailed. Before Isles’ efforts, no one had characterized the source of the lead in Trenton. We tested thousands of homes, learned that 80% of the lead comes from their dust (not their water, like Flint). But we didn’t stop there. We developed low cost ways to make homes both energy efficient and healthy. We also trained local contractors to do the same, while working to gain the trust of residents and property owners, who for good reason, often don’t like folks inspecting their homes.
To a large extent, because of Isles’ experience, New Jersey’s Lead Pilot funding program was re-structured and re-funded at $10M annually. We’re successfully raising other funds to do targeted renovation of homes, making them safe, efficient, and comfortable, while creating quality jobs in the process. The long-term savings to families and taxpayers are immense – $17 – $54 saved for every $1 invested in preventing lead poisoning. With this experience and policy changes we are pursuing, we can set our sights on making Trenton homes lead safe by 2027.
Like other work that we develop at Isles, we are teaching community groups and policymakers our lessons. We are very pleased that the Federal Reserve of San Francisco recently published our paper, When Homes Are the Most Dangerous Place: How a Community Development Organization Learned to Get the Lead Out. It offers a story of perseverance, success and educational failures over 15 years. Why does the Federal Reserve care about this? Because their member banks hold over a trillion dollars in assets that are potentially poisoning children. It’s time to figure this out.
All of this occurred because social entrepreneurs decided to keep finding better ways to foster self-reliance and community health. It took over 15 years and willingness to work on the ground and learn from researchers.
It also took flexible sources of funds to pay for this learning – and action. Unrestricted funding from donors like you made it possible. Thank you.