Washington (August 17, 2023) - Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) joined Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), along with eight of their Senate colleagues, in sending a letter to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) urging the agency to take further steps to address the problem of lead poisoning in federally assisted housing. In the letter, the senators request on update on HUD’s implementation of a Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) program lead-risk demonstration project, as was funded by the Consolidated Appropriations Act. Under current HUD regulations—which require that children in the HCV program develop lead poisoning before a risk assessment is conducted—too many children, largely low-income and minority, are exposed to lead and suffer permanent brain damage.

“Any amount of lead exposure will have adverse effects on infant and child neurodevelopment. It is critical to the health and well-being of our children that lead hazards are identified and eliminated before a child is exposed. This is especially true in federally assisted housing. We cannot tolerate the lead poisoning of low-income children whose caregivers turned to federally assisted housing programs for safe and decent housing,” wrote the senators.

Prior to the pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identified at least 535,000 children between the age of one and five with elevated blood lead levels. The CDC estimates that in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic roughly 10,000 children with elevated blood lead levels may have gone undetected due to lack of screening. Immediately before the pandemic, HUD identified at least 57,000 federally assisted housing units with lead hazards and 450,000 federally assisted housing units occupied by at least one child and built before 1978. In addition, there is evidence that households served by the HCV program are concentrated in areas with the highest risk of lead poisoning.

“This demonstration project will provide important information on the benefits of and structure for requiring pre-occupancy risk assessments in HCV program units and support participating landlords in covering the costs of remediation and abatement,” wrote the senators. “This demonstration project can lay the infrastructure for adopting risk assessments across federally assisted housing, including the HCV program, before a child is exposed and suffers permanent neurological harm.”

In the letter, the senators also highlight the cost-benefit ratio of primary prevention and lead hazard remediation and abatement.  Research shows that the annual economic burden associated with childhood lead exposure amounts to $50.9 billion in the United States. Furthermore, research has found that every dollar invested in lead paint hazard controls results in a return of $17 to $221, or a net savings of $181 to $269 billion.

“We have previously alerted HUD of our great concern and the urgency of addressing childhood lead poisoning in both federally assisted and private market housing, especially because the health and safety of so many vulnerable children are at stake. We urge you to develop a robust and comprehensive demonstration project and request that you provide us with regular updates as you begin planning, including who you have consulted in the planning process and justification for any decisions on location and study design, among other factors,” the senators continued.

Joining Senators Markey, Durbin, and Menendez on today’s letter are Senators Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), and Cory Booker (D-N.J.).

A copy of the letter can be found here.