LEAD BABIES….It turns out that “crack babies” are mostly a myth. On the other hand, “lead babies” are entirely real, and a substantial number of American children suffer from long-term exposure to lead that produces lower IQs and increased delinquent and violent behavior in adolescence.

So why was there an explosion of crack baby stories in the 80s and 90s but nothing about lead babies? Rivka takes a guess:

The lead problem is complex; it implicates delinquent landlords, decaying inner city housing stock, the shift in low-income housing assistance from federally maintained properties to the Section 8 system (which relies on private landlords), and state and municipal governments. That complexity just didn’t fit in with the 80s and 90s zeitgeist in which the problems of the poor were blamed on individual pathology. In contrast, the “crack baby epidemic” was about poor black women being bad mothers, individually to blame for putting their babies at risk.

There are lots of issues with lead abatement that make it a difficult problem, but most of them can be solved with money and effort. Given the well known and universally accepted consequences of even minute lead exposure during infancy, getting rid of the stuff would probably be one of the most cost effective social programs in the history of the country. So why aren’t we doing it?

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