By Judith A. Enck
October is Children’s Health Month, but we should prioritize our children’s health every month of the year. As a mom, my son’s health isn’t something I consider annually or monthly, but daily. Even now that my son is grown, his health is still my main concern.
One of the greatest environmental threats impacting kids today is lead. Lead is a neurotoxin. Even at low levels, exposure to lead paint impairs a child’s ability to learn. It reduces IQ and can cause hearing problems. It can also cause a range of learning disabilities.
EPA Region decided to take action to work with the City of Newburgh to address the exposure to lead from different sources. In January 2014, Congressmember Sean Maloney and I hosted a round-table discussion with the “Lead Safe Newburgh Coalition,” an organization of people from different sectors involved in the effort to solve Newburgh’s lead problem.
This group has already achieved some of its major milestones. A major source of exposure to lead for children is from paint. The Coalition has taken steps to test and address these sources.
Additionally, we’ve tested blood lead levels in children in Newburgh. In April and October 2014, EPA worked with the Greater Hudson Valley Family Health Center to provide free blood lead screening in a mobile health unit.
The Coalition took a page from the EPA handbook, establishing programs to test soil and water for elevated lead levels. SoilSHOPs, a community-based soil sampling program, has provided free soil sampling for schools and residences.
The Coalition also launched the EPA program, 3Ts for Reducing Lead in Drinking Water in Schools Guidelines, which provides three services: (1) education on the sources and health effects of lead, (2) testing water samples, and (3) sharing the results with the public. Through this program, EPA tested water sources at the Head Start of Eastern Orange and taps at Newburgh Enlarged City School District. More than 500 drinking water outlets were sampled for lead in the drinking water. Based on assessed need, taps were flushed, filtered, and upgraded with new plumbing. Because children spend the majority of their time in school, it is vital that we test these locations. By providing this service, we help schools take charge to create safe environments for children to learn.
Effective collaboration among many has revitalized the community. As EPA Regional Administrator, I am proud that EPA has worked hard to make Newburgh a healthier place to live.
During Children’s Health Month, we have the opportunity to ensure the health and safety of our children by working hard to provide a clean environment where they can learn and play.
About the Author: Judith Enck is Regional Administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region 2, which covers New York, Eight federally-recognized Indian Nations, New Jersey, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.