The Lead Amnesia Syndrome

Symptoms of Lead Induced Amnesia

Former Mayor Michael R. White in the early 1990s  faced pressure to act after testing revealed dangerous levels of lead in the blood of 86 percent of kids tested in Glenville, the neighborhood he’d represented. In 1993 he held a summit at the Cleveland Convention Center that included 200 participants, including a panel of 45 national, state and local experts. [  ] Despite initial enthusiasm, over the next ten years projects that emerged from the summit either stalled or expired.

Jane Campbell, elected in 2001, also vowed to reduce the scourge. In 2004, Campbell announced that public and private agencies would join forces to eliminate childhood lead poisoning in 10 years. "We want to become a national model," Campbell said. The effort included plans to screen more children, enforce lead abatement laws and train more workers to remediate aging housing stock. It would be aided by a $1.6 million grant from the Saint Luke’s Foundation that would re-energize work of the Greater Cleveland Lead Advisory Council.

In 2005 Cleveland enacted a Lead Safe Housing registry. No one ever registered.'

In 2006, the city’s health director and chair of the city’s public-private lead advisory council, Matt Carroll, acknowledged that neither of the city’s goals could be met. The work was stymied in part by federal cuts to lead prevention and remediation programs and by federal grants lost because of mismanagement and slow progress. See Someone Else's Problem 

In 2016, The Cleveland Branch of the Federal Reserve bank held a symposium on childhood lead poisoning. "

In 2021, Governor DeWine released a Lead Task Force Final Report. Three years later the State of the State message focused on child well being, but never mentioned lead poisoning. 

In May 2023, Ohio Department of Health adopted a new definition of lead poisoning called "elevated blood lead" Under ODH guidance, EBL is to be treated with outreach and education of parents during normal working hours. No inspections until a child's EBL reaches 10 mg/dl.  Wait! that was same the standard that Ohio used BEFORE the CDC standard issued in 2021.  A person who works in "the system" observed that the decision to make a change that was no change was "driven by economic considerations."

The Lead Amnesia Hypothesis is based on the simple observable fact that the less the public is exposed to news about lead, the more likely they are to forget that lead is a problem.

Related syndrome is the famous "if we don't talk about it, lead poisoning will go away" policy.

Along the way, Cleveland has encountered the "move the sofa" remediation which involves moving the sofa will prevent a poisoned child from coming into contact with lead dust on the windowsill. 

Predictably another crisis will come along (Pandemic, Say Yes to Education, Racism as a Public Health issue...) to divert the public eyes (and dollars) away from lead poisoning. After all you can't see lead. Many times there are no symptoms. Didn't we remove lead from paint in 1978? From gas in the 1980s? So what's the problem now?

Related conditions. Somebody Else's Problem.