It can slip insidiously into the tiny systems of helpless children even before birth. It travels into their small unprotected bodies in infinitesimal amounts from seemingly innocuous sources--paint, dust, soil and even water. It lurks in their blood, addling the mind, poisoning their bodies with sometimes deadly results. It is among the worst of environmental diseases: lead poisoning in children.
About 3 million to 4 million American children under the age of 6 suffer from the toxic substance. It is a problem requiring a national solution; three-quarters of the affected children are poor.
Recognizing lead as the the "No. 1 environmental poison for children," the Bush Administration has proposed a long-overdue program to reduce lead exposure. It calls for $1 billion to be spent over the next five years, but only $50 million in fiscal 1992. While advocates praise the program, they worry that funding is sorely inadequate. Federal commitments are crucial to eliminating this environmental risk. Administration officials say state and local governments and the private sector will have to share in the costs.
"Lead poisoning is entirely preventable, yet it is the most common and societally devastating environmental disease of young children," said Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Louis W. Sullivan. Constant exposure can affect virtually every bodily system and is particularly harmful to the central nervous system. Children suffering from lead toxicity typically suffer from learning disabilities, deficits in IQ and behavioral problems.