Intimate Partners: Lead Poisoning & Poverty

There’s a huge hole in the kitchen ceiling of the rowhouse Olivia Griffin rents in West Baltimore. Rain leaks in through the roof, the lights in the bedroom don’t work, and standing water fills one end of the basement. The 27-year-old mother’s biggest worry, though, is the flaking, peeling paint inside and out – and the dangerously high level of lead in the blood of her 1-year-old daughter, Lyric. 

The above paragraph illustrates the intimate and powerful partnership between poverty and lead poisoning. It’s a story that’s played-out in thousands of homes in cities across America. These stories end in financial ruin, crime, poor health, and even death. The saddest thing of all – is these stories can be eliminated, but because of government and medical systems that fail, these endings are all too common.

The truth is we have systems that are failing the poor and the sick.

According to Talk Poverty, the overall poverty rate in the U.S. is 13.5 percent (43.1 million people). The percent of people who fell below the poverty line – $24,250 for a family of four – in 2015.  There are about 62 percent of children who live in poverty – among the highest, if not the highest rate in U.S. cities larger than 50,000 people.

Along with poverty, the poor must also cope daily with lead contamination. “Lead is a metal that is found naturally in the earth’s crust and in all parts of our environment. Much of it comes from human activities such as mining and manufacturing. Breathing air, drinking water, eating food, or swallowing or touching dirt that contain lead can cause many health problems.

Lead can affect almost every organ and system in the body. In adults, lead can increase blood pressure and cause infertility, nerve disorders, and muscle and joint pain. Lead is especially dangerous for children. A child who swallows large amounts of lead may develop anemia, severe stomachache, muscle weakness, and brain damage. Even at low levels, lead can affect a child’s mental and physical growth.

How do we help the poor and the sick?

We need to address the issues of poverty and lead poisoning together. These are not separate issues with different solutions. These are equal issues needing equal attention and funding.

For the most updated information on lead exposure and contamination come back to We are here for you.