Making the Invisible Visible


What the Eyes Don't See is the title of Flint heroine Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha’s book about the Flint water crisis. It’s an appropriate title for a book where behind the scenes dealing resulted in thousands of children ingesting lead through their drinking water. However, it's also an accurate statement when it comes to children being poisoned by lead in communities like Grand Rapids that have long had safe drinking water.

Instead, too many people still believe the myths that the paint manufacturers, the lead industry, and others promoted in the mid-twentieth century. These groups shaped a narrative that blamed lead poisoning on poor parenting. Their efforts were so strong that they got public health officials, the medical community, and public to buy in. That line of reasoning continues today, as too many responses focus only on health education and what parents can do.

“What the eyes don't see” fits for Grand Rapids. Putting the responsibility on parents alone is an unfair and ineffective response. Science reveals that the lead particles that poison children are largely invisible. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, most children are poisoned by fine particles of lead in the dust, soil, and water. How can parents protect their children from what they cannot see?

Instead, we need to be able to see lead. The technology to measure lead in the environment has existed for decades.  This technology needs to be used to stop kids from hurting.

Here are five specific ways to make the invisible hazards of lead visible.

  1. Develop new policy and incentives that result in all pre-1978 homes undergoing inspection and risk assessment before children are exposed. 
  2. Integrate the use of technologies like dust wipe testing and x-ray fluorescence into existing home inspection programs.
  3. Get simple test kits into the hands of parents so that they can use technology to check their homes for the presence of lead dust.
  4. Better enforce the EPA’s existing Lead-Based Paint Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule and add dust wipe sampling to the accountability process.
  5. Increase support for abating lead hazards for those who act responsibly. Grants, tax credits, access to programs, and other incentives can tip the scales in favor of prevention.

Maybe the naked eye cannot see lead. But its presence can and must be detected to stop children from hurting. It’s time to take the next step and see what the eyes don’t see.