Uh oh. The Des Moines Register is warning that “a new law that requires all Iowa youngsters to be tested for lead by the time they enter kindergarten could swamp state and local taxpayers in ways lawmakers did not foresee.”
House File 158 was passed last year as part of a campaign against lead poisoning, which health officials describe as one of the most preventable causes of learning disabilities and brain damage in young children. Statewide, more than 10,000 Iowans under age 6 had toxic levels of lead in their blood between 2002 and 2006. Thousands more likely went unnoticed, officials say, because they weren’t tested.
The new law is scheduled to take effect this fall.
“I like to describe these kids as canaries in the coal mine,” said Rick Kozin of the Polk County Health Department. “We let the kids get sick, and then we identify the problem homes.
“With this law, we’re going to find more canaries than we’ve ever found before.”
But health and housing experts say the ripple effect of the law could devastate public and private pocketbooks. Potential fallout includes:
A statewide shortage of inspectors qualified to check houses where lead-poisoned children live or play.
Huge bills, measured in tens of thousands of dollars, to clean or remove lead.
Unprecedented demand for temporary housing when lead-related work forces families from their homes.
“This could be overwhelming,” Polk County Supervisor Angela Connolly said.
While spending tens of thousands of dollars to deal with lead in a building may seem like a lot of money, consider this: children affected by lead poisoning are more likely to need costly special-education programs in school. That’s not a one-time cost, that’s every year they are in school.
Also, lead exposure has been linked to criminal activity. Research suggests that removing lead from paint and gasoline in the 1970s is one reason that violent crime rates in the U.S. dropped dramatically in the 1990s.
Building more prisons to house more criminals is extremely costly in human terms as well as monetarily.
If we remove lead paint hazards from homes, we will reduce exposure for all future children living in those homes, which will save us money in our education budgets and will possibly reduce crime far into the future.
Let’s not be penny-wise and pound-foolish in dealing with this problem.