Taking the Lead on Protecting Georgia’s Kids from Lead
On April 12th, GEEARS: Georgia Early Education Alliance for Ready Students hosted a luncheon called Leadership Matters. It was a festive gathering in a sun-drenched banquet hall at the Loudermilk Conference Center. We honored Rep. Katie Dempsey for her visionary legislation on behalf of Georgia’s children and celebrated retiring GEEARS partners, Pam Tatum, the CEO of Quality Care for Children, and Joe Perreault, from the Professional Family Child Care Alliance of Georgia.
The centerpiece of the event was a dazzling conversation between GEEARS board president, Stephanie Blank and Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, who became famous seven years ago for exposing the Flint, Michigan water crisis.
You wouldn’t think a discussion about government indifference and the devastating impact of lead poisoning could also be inspiring and entertaining. But in the hands of Stephanie and “Dr. Mona,” it truly was.
Dr. Mona spoke with the matter-of-factness of a pediatrician who’s been dealing with the horror of lead for a very long time. She told us about the callous decisions of 20th century American entrepreneurs and policy makers, which resulted in a preponderance of lead in paint and plumbing. She explained that pulverized particles of old lead paint can gather in the crevices and corners of old homes where babies crawl. She told us about the profound and incurable brain damage that can result from lead poisoning and how the youngest, smallest children are the most vulnerable to it. And she surprised no one with the observation that lead is a bigger problem in impoverished and Black and Brown communities than it is in wealthy, white ones.
But she also encouraged us to catalyze our despair into action. There is much we can do.
To start, we must encourage Governor Kemp to sign into law HB 1355—a bill sponsored by Rep. Dempsey that will lead to more effective lead testing, abatement and mitigation. To reduce lead hazard, HB 1355 would update Georgia law to align with CDC guidelines defining elevated blood lead level and the standard that triggers public health intervention. It would aid in the early identification of children with elevated blood lead levels to reduce harm and prevent further exposure. Finally, it would protect children under age six from lead exposure found in rental housing, schools and child care. GEEARS worked with partners during the legislative session to advocate for the passage of this vital legislation and the governor must sign it by May 14th so that it becomes law.
You can add your voice to this advocacy by contacting the governor before the bill’s deadline.
You can also encourage any Georgia public school to partner with Clean Water for Georgia Kids to test the school’s drinking and cooking taps for lead. This is an innovative organization that hopes to cover every base in the state (or rather, every water tap) by empowering citizen scientists to test their water and mitigate lead content with point-of-use filters.
Finally, you can educate yourself by reading Dr. Mona’s book about her journey as a medical activist, What the Eyes Don’t See.
At GEEARS, we’ve always approached our advocacy holistically. Education can only succeed when children—and their families and communities—are healthy. When it comes to this issue, health can only be achieved if we act together, and act urgently, to get the lead out of our children’s homes, their schools, and their sippy cups of water.