How Baltimore’s Lead Poisoning Problem Impacts Poverty


Baltimore’s poverty problem is related to a number of issues. One that isn’t often talked about is lead poisoning.

In 2015, when protests broke out in the wake of Freddie Gray’s death, a lot of questions were being asked in Baltimore. Questions regarding race relations, the use of force among police officers, and the kind of poverty that Baltimore has dealt with for decades. There’s no question that there are a myriad of factors that influence poverty—everything from education to infrastructure can have an impact. Still, one influencer that has always been felt in Baltimore is its history of lead poisoning and its distinct impact on poverty.

Affecting Those Worse Off

In many homes in Baltimore, the conditions which those who live in poverty are strenuous. It’s not unusual for rowhomes to have nonfunctional lights or leaky roofs. One issue stands out due to its impact on the development of children, however: lead poisoning. Leaky, flakey lead paint—the kind used in older homes that most municipalities have effectively combatted and replaced—is still present in a good deal of Baltimore homes. These are the kinds of families that are unable to afford testing and, even if they are aware of lead paint being in their homes, unable to afford remediation.

A Legacy of Lead Poisoning

Freddie Gray was a victim of lead poisoning himself, with The Washington Post writing that, “his life was defined by failures in the classroom, run-ins with the law and an inability to focus on anything for very long.” Gray also filed a lawsuit that was eventually settled as a result of his exposure to lead paint, as many advocates and studies believe exposure to lead paint can have impacts on cognitive function and even increasing aggression. Some believe lead paint is directly tied to continuing cycles of poverty as well. Baltimore outlawed the use of lead paint in 1950, almost three decades before it was federally banned, but even in 1993 a study found 13,000 kids in Baltimore who had lead poisoning. Ruth Ann Norton, the executive director of the Coalition to End Childhood Lead Poisoning, told The Washington Post that they weren’t effectively collecting those numbers, either, and that if they had been, “we would have found 30,000 poisoned kids.”

Remedying the Problem

There are already some measures in place to help diminish lead poisoning in Baltimore City. The number of affected children cases have dropped by 86 percent by 2002, according to The Baltimore Sun. As beneficial as getting rid of lead paint in even more homes is, it doesn’t diminish the fact that generations grew up this way. Entire families were impacted. When we talk about poverty broadly, it becomes easy to ignore the nuances of such a complicated issue—but at the end of the day, even something as seemingly benign as the kind of paint used in some homes can have a lasting impact on an entire city.

Talk to My Brother’s Keeper About Helping Baltimore

To learn more about our youth programs, Attendance Affirmation Project, how to help, or to find out more about our services including hot meal programs, employment assistance, health services and identifying possible emergency shelter, call MBK today at 410-644-3194. You can also follow our official MBK page on Google+, Pinterest, Twitter, and Facebook, to stay up to date on our center’s progress and upcoming events in the community.

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