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In Light of Flint Water Crisis, Committee Democrats Request Information on Federal Investments to Prevent Lead Poisoning

Feb 17, 2016
Press Release

Leaders Ask CDC If Additional Resources are Needed to Tackle Public Health Challenge

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, Democratic leaders on the House Energy and Commerce Committee wrote to Dr. Thomas Frieden, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), requesting information on the agency’s Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program. 

In light of the ongoing situation in Flint, Michigan, Full Committee Ranking Member Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), Health Subcommittee Ranking Member Gene Green (D-TX), Environment and the Economy Subcommittee Ranking Member Paul Tonko (D-NY), and Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Ranking Member Diana DeGette (D-CO) sent a letter to the agency asking whether additional resources are needed in order to accurately detect whether children are ingesting dangerous levels of lead.

“The gravity of the situation in Flint has brought to light equally troubling circumstances across the country,” said Pallone, Green, Tonko, and DeGette.  “Given the lifelong and irreversible effects that exposure to lead has on our children, we must ensure that the federal government is providing the necessary funding so that states can combat this critical public health challenge.”

Currently, the CDC’s Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program provides funding to 29 states (including Michigan), the District of Columbia, and five cities for lead poisoning prevention and surveillance activities.  The purpose of the program is to assist public health authorities in identifying high risk areas and implementing appropriate, population-based interventions as needed.  The program has experienced decreased funding in recent years, from nearly $30 million in FY 2011 to $17 million in FY 2016. 

The lawmakers asked for additional information regarding how the State of Michigan used its grant, noting: “Despite receiving funding for blood lead level monitoring and surveillance capabilities, [Michigan’s Department of Health and Human Services] failed to appropriately detect and respond to rising blood lead levels in children after the city of Flint switched the city’s water supply to the Flint River.”

The Members also looked beyond the immediate crisis in Flint, noting that, in the last 15 years, a number of U.S. cities have reported unsafe levels of lead in drinking water and some four million children nationwide live in homes that have lead-based paint, which can result in lead poisoning.  Additionally, there is significant variation in how states test for and report lead exposure to the CDC.

Among other information, the lawmakers have requested grant documents and reports from all state agencies, as well as a briefing on the history of the CDC’s Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program, funding levels for the program, and activities conducted by recipients under the grant.

Read the full text of the letter here