Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Paint and Suffering

A decade ago, the EPA was required by law to issue regulations for lead-safe remodeling of older homes, mainly in order to protect children from the serious, undisputed neurological effects of ingesting lead. After dragging its heels for six years, the EPA now claims that it's exempt from this requirement.

In a recent court filing, EPA claims that once six years have elapsed it can no longer be compelled to comply with the law. EPA struck this novel legal posture in a motion to dismiss a lawsuit brought by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) and a coalition of public health and community organizations.
That's bad, but this is worse:
Up until 2005, EPA claimed that, while tardy, it was still working to develop the rules. That year, however, PEER discovered the EPA public statements were false and that the agency had made a secret decision to abandon the rules altogether....

“The implications of EPA’s latest position are just appalling – the agency can run out the clock by assuring everyone that it is working on compliance and then suddenly claim that is immune from suit,” stated PEER Senior Counsel Paula Dinerstein, who co-authored PEER’s reply brief filed today in federal district court in the District of Columbia.
This is just about as basic a public-health issue as you could hope to find. As the CDC says:
The risks of lead exposure are not based on theoretical calculations. They are well known from studies of children themselves and are not extrapolated from data on laboratory animals or high-dose occupational exposures.
In other words, our knowledge of lead's effects on children comes at a staggering human cost. And that cost grows as lead-damaged children grow:
In 1996, Dr. Needleman published a study of 300 boys in Pittsburgh public schools and found that those with relatively high levels of lead in their bones were more likely to engage in antisocial activities like bullying, vandalism, truancy and shoplifting. In 1979, Dr. Needleman, using measurements of lead in children's teeth, concluded that children with high lead levels in their teeth, but no outward signs of lead poisoning, had lower IQ scores, poorer attention and poorer language skills.
These are fairly grim findings. Regardless, Pat Cleary of the National Association of Manufacturers finds childhood lead poisoning rather droll. After all, what kind of idiot eats paint?

You'll frequently hear Serious People "scientifically" explaining black delinquency in terms of IQ differentials, or "oppositional culture," or a "culture of failure." While other factors are important, it's worth noting that the highest levels of lead exposure, according to the EPA itself, are consistently found in poor black children:
For all income levels, non-Hispanic Black children had a greater risk of elevated blood lead levels than white children. However, the disparity is greater for Black children who live in families with incomes below the poverty line.
Lead is also a problem in affluent areas - hell, it's not impossible that George Allen's horrible personality has something to do with lead exposure - but of course, society reacts a bit more leniently to the sociopathy of wealthy white kids.

Aren't you glad we live in a culture of life, where no child is left behind?

(Photo by Wynn White, whose site is well worth browsing.)


Phila said...

I've never understood actions like this... I mean I guess it's easy to explain with racism

It's easy to explain the higher incidence of poisoning among blacks as racism, but the overall problem is bigger than that.

Some sociologist, years ago, argued that there were three types of cruelty. One was "ferocious cruelty" - the sort of thing you see when bodies are dragged through the street and hanged from lamp-posts.

Another was "callous cruelty," which he thought was typical of bureaucratized societies in which decisions and their effects on people are impersonal or even naturalized (i.e., "that's just the way things are"). That, I think, is pretty much what we're talking about here.

The distance that people feel from the suffering they cause is compounded by racism, I'm sure, but doesn't require it.

The goal? I don't think there is one, beyond money and power. You go along to get along, as the saying is.

Interesting comment about the EPA. I don't believe that's why it was formed, and I think William Ruckelshaus and Russell Train (its first two directors) were basically decent people who accomplished impressive things.

Now, of course, it's a different story...

Phila said...

You're right, I'm sure, on the creation of the EPA - and I know there are people even now working within that organization and others who do their absolute best and with wonderful motives.

Well, I think you're quite right that things are heading in the direction of the EPA (et al) providing cover and rubberstamping policy. And there's no doubt in my mind that that's the ideal, according to Bush and his ilk.

Marc said...

This might seem like a silly question, but how come "Black" children takes a capital but "white" children doesn't?

Phila said...

This might seem like a silly question, but how come "Black" children takes a capital but "white" children doesn't?

I was wondering that myself. Kind of weird, huh?