all seen or heard about the water crisis in Flint,
Michigan: thousands of children and pregnant women have been
exposed to lead poisoning after a series of questionable or,
at best, very short-sighted decisions by various government
entities caused lead to seep into their drinking water.
pure and simple, the poisoning of a community. And it is
mainly lower-income African-American children who are
poisoned at higher rates than in predominantly white
neighborhoods or suburbs and whose lives are in dire danger.
Recently, however, we are coming to learn that it is not
just Flint and it is not just water. Consider what is
happening right here in Ohio.
Sebring, a small northeastern Ohio town of 4,300 in the
Youngstown – Warren area, schools were closed three days in
a row in February and pregnant women and children were
advised not to drink the water after elevated levels of lead
were found. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has
been asked to lead an investigation.
Sebring crisis, itself, is not an isolated incident. In
fact, across the entire state of Ohio between 2012 and 2015,
80 water systems serving more than 173,000 residents
reported elevated levels of lead. Sebring was the
fifth-largest system affected by higher-than-average lead
levels; Canton, Ohio was the highest. Twelve of the 80 water
systems served schools or day care centers.
not just an Ohio phenomenon.
USA Today Network investigation revealed that almost
2,000 water systems spanning all 50 states have tested for
excessive levels of lead contamination over the past four
years. These water systems collectively supply water to six
Furthermore, the source of public lead poisoning is not just
confined to the water. Health experts and public housing
advocates warn that 1.6 million households with children
nationwide are at risk of exposure to lead-contaminated
paint, a source of lead poisoning far more prevalent than
has the second highest rate of lead poisoning in Ohio and in
Cleveland, 14.2 percent of children have been exposed to
poisonous lead – not in their water but rather in paint. The
New York Times notes:
poisoning of Flint’s children outraged the nation. But too
much lead in children’s blood has long been an everyday fact
in Cleveland and scores of other cities — not because of
bungled decisions about drinking water, but largely because
a decades-long attack on lead in household paint has
faltered. It is a tragic reminder that one of the great
public health crusades of the 20th century remains
than 3,400 children in Toledo suffer from lead poisoning,
the Kirwin Institute of the Ohio State University reports,
“resulting in damage to brain development, loss of IQ
points, shortened attention span, and disruptive behavior.”
These effects are also permanent, according to the Toledo
Lead Poisoning Prevention Coalitions, leading to staggering
societal costs including special education needs,
incarceration, personal and financial losses of crime
victims, and lost opportunities for children to be
decades now, we have known of the dangers of lead poisoning,
particularly where our children are concerned. Even small
amounts of lead have a pernicious impact on young brains,
stunting intellectual growth and affecting cardiovascular,
immune and hormone systems.
must we do?
a time of extreme peril and not a time for smiles and
Senate has a bipartisan measure pending called the Drinking
Water Safety and Infrastructure Act. It would provide $242
million in seed money not just for Flint, but also for other
communities with water contamination, including communities
in Ohio. Both of Ohio’s senators, Rob Portman and Sherrod
Brown, are co-sponsors of the legislation. We should contact
them to ask them to prod Senate leadership to bring this
measure up for an immediate vote.
Mayor Paula Hicks Hudson and the Toledo City Council are
urged to put our children first by approving the prevention
ordinance sponsored by the Toledo Lead Poisoning Prevention
steps are a start, but we need more to fix our
infrastructure and heal our children.
just Flint and it’s not just water. The lives of our
children are in jeopardy and it affects us all. We need to
demand that we put a stop to the poisoning of our children.
Contact Rev. Donald Perryman, D.Min, at