Chicago Experts Agree that Short- and Long-Term Measures Are Necessary
NCHH's Chief Scientist, Dr. David Jacobs, appeared on a panel to discuss lead poisoning on WTTW’s evening news program Chicago Tonight. The episode, "Taking a Closer Look at Lead Exposure," was filmed in response to the recent news that dangerous levels of lead were discovered in the drinking water of several public schools in the Chicago area.
Dr. Jacobs is an authority on the effects of lead in the body. Before joining NCHH, he was the director of HUD’s Office of Healthy Homes and Lead Hazard Control. He also serves as an adjunct associate professor for the School of Public Health at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). Two other lead experts from Chicago joined Dr. Jacobs on the panel: Dr. Julie Morita, Chicago’s Health Commissioner, and Dr. Susan Buchanan, director of the Occupational Medicine Residency program, also at UIC’s School of Public Health.
“The water crisis in Flint, Michigan, has concerned parents, activists, and community members wondering if the same thing could happen here [Chicago],” began moderator Phil Ponce.
Said Dr. Jacobs, “Lead is […] one of the best studied toxic substances that we know of. It’s one of the metals that you don’t need in your body; it has no useful biological value whatsoever. It creates a range of effects. The most important […] we think are the neurodevelopmental effects for children at an early age, but it also causes cancer, kidney disease, and many other adverse health effects.”
Lead exposure at high levels can be fatal, noted Dr. Buchanan, but most children with low-level exposures to lead exhibit no “overt signs or symptoms,” such as obvious changes in behavior and well-being observable by most parents; however, changes are occurring from lead in the blood—“dozens of studies [show] subtle neurodevelopmental changes,” Dr. Buchanan explained. “There are IQ points lost, higher risk of ADHD. And these are things that are found when hundreds of children are studied in epidemiologic studies.”
But how can parents know whether their water is safe if their children exhibit no obvious signs of having been exposed to lead?
“You should test it,” urges Dr. Jacobs. “You first have to find out which pipes [and surfaces] actually have lead […]. Once you know that, then you can use proven steps to remediate it using both short-term and long-term measures. I mean, we know how to fix this problem; it’s simply a matter of applying the scientific knowledge we have to make a difference.”
Watch the full video.