2021 has brought new challenges, adding to an already long fight for Toledoans to keep our city’s upward trajectory on the right course. In the three years before COVID-19, Site Selection Magazine ranked Toledo third in the nation for economic development among mid-sized cities; we were the fourth best city in the United States for manufacturing jobs according to Kemplar Industries; and the Associated General Contractors of America described ours as the fifth-fastest growing construction job market in the country.
We accomplished many goals during my years as mayor, I witnessed Toledoans unite, enthusiastic to tackle greater challenges. Securing long-term, affordable rates for water, stepping up to the plate to identify the real cause of the algal blooms poisoning Lake Erie, and as of October 20, 2020, we finally approved the Lead-Safe Ordinance: a plan to reduce the risk of childhood lead poisoning in our city and its most vulnerable neighborhoods.
One of the easiest first steps we can all take to address the dangers of lead poisoning is to understand how to identify it, the health risks it poses, and which groups are particularly susceptible to exposure. The majority of our housing stock was built before 1978 and is likely to contain lead. We know that lead poisoning occurs more frequently in households under the federal poverty level and in small-scale rental properties, and it disproportionately affects our communities of color that have long faced affordable housing inequity, neighborhood disinvestment, and discrimination when trying to find safe, healthy places to live.
Although there are certainly concerns about homes with chipping paint, young children are exposed to lead-contaminated dust primarily from friction surfaces such as doors and windows when they crawl on floors and engage in normal hand-to-mouth behaviors. Pregnant women and children under six are the most susceptible to lead poisoning’s debilitating effects.
The CDC makes clear “that the best way to protect children is to prevent lead exposure in the first place” and that there is no amount of lead in a child’s body that is “safe.” This is where we can all play our part as Toledoans to rid our city of these deadly toxins that target our children. Benjamin Franklin’s saying that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure is demonstrated well in the prevention of lead poisoning, which has an estimated return on investment of $17 to $221 per dollar spent on lead paint hazard control. That means removing lead from our houses through abatement or encapsulation and testing our homes for lead dust before a child occupies them. Our current process only tests after the damage is done, effectively using children to measure the problem.
By current data from the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department and the Ohio Department of Health, more than 400 children tested from September 2019 to September 2020 had elevated blood lead levels. Only children under age six in “high-risk” zip codes are mandated to be tested in Ohio, and only those with levels at or above 5 ug/dL are reported. Hundreds of Toledo children, infants, and toddlers, are permanently damaged from lead poisoning every year that could have been prevented.
I know Toledoans take the poisoning of our people seriously. The longer we let these toxic materials continue to decay in homes untreated, the graver the threat they pose. The preventable poisoning of Toledo citizens must end. Under the new Lead-Safe Program, Toledo City Council unanimously adopted an ordinance in October 2020 to protect the highest risk populations of our city: those residing in 1-4-unit rental properties built before 1978. Over the next five years, property owners will need to take steps to address any lead hazards in their units, hire a local lead inspector to perform a visual assessment and dust-wipe analysis, and receive a Lead-Safe Certificate from the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department.
In passing the Lead-Safe Ordinance, we have taken the first commitment to actions that will eliminate the consequences of lead poisoning as a threat to all Toledoans.
As I’ve said before, successful cities take bold actions. With so many new challenges emerging in recent years, it can be tempting to be timid; to wait and see how things play out before we make a move, but now is the right time to be bold. Especially in the face of a threat with such an easy solution, our actions now will improve the life expectancy of Toledo children, decrease the unnecessary medical, emotional, and financial stressors on low-income and minority populations, and give more people a better chance to contribute to the continued improvement of our city.
I know Toledoans will work together toward their own success, a task that we prove, time and again, we can rise up to meet.
This article was also published in The Truth.