One of the little known aspects of the life of Freddie Gray, the man whose spine was severed by a rough ride in the back of police van, is he was a victim of lead poisoning acquired from growing up in substandard housing.
The Baltimore Sun reported the Gray family filed a lawsuit against a previous landlord over this issue. The Huffington Post reports Black children nationwide have higher rates of lead poisoning than white children.
“On average, between 1999 and 2004, black children were 1.6 times more likely to test positive for lead in their blood than white children,” The Huffington Post reported. “And among children who tested positive for extremely high lead levels (≥10 micrograms per deciliter), the disparity was even more stark. Black children were nearly three times more likely than white children to have highly elevated blood-lead levels, the type of lead poisoning where the most damaging health outcomes occur.”
The Huffington Post reports the problem of “lead children” seems to be particularly common in the Black community. The article also reported high numbers of Black children suffering from lead poisoning in New York, Detroit, Savannah, Ga. and Birmingham and Montgomery, Ala.
“In our analysis, a handful of cities stood out as having a high percentage of African-American residents and a high number of children with elevated blood-lead levels. Nationally, African-Americans make up 13 percent of the population, but in Savannah, Ga., for example, which is 57 percent black, more than 5 percent of children had elevated blood-lead levels, compared to the 0.5 percent of children with elevated blood-lead levels nationally,” reported Huffington Post writers Erin Schumaker and Alissa Scheller. “Four percent of children in Montgomery, Alabama, and 3 percent of children in Birmingham, Alabama—both of which are more than 50 percent black— had elevated blood-lead levels.”
According to The Huffington Post, lead poisoning can cause a host of health issues in children such as ADHD, behavioral problems, brain damage and central nervous system damage. This is backed up by a 2010 World Health Organization report which also found the same evidence.
“Children who survive acute lead poisoning are typically left with grossly obvious mental retardation and behavioral disruption,” said Maria Neira, director, Public Health and Environment, World Health Organization.
During a court deposition, Gray said lead poisoning had affected him growing up.
“He said he had been diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. His sisters spoke of having to repeat grades and other problems,” reported The Baltimore Sun.
This might explain why so many Black children are reported to have behavioral problems in school and put in special ed programs. Ruth Ann Norton, a Baltimore advocate for children suffering from lead poisoning, said young people with these ailments start life with a significant disadvantage.
“Our kids are ill equipped to stay in the classroom, finish school. They’re very unlikely to go on to higher education. They’re less likely to be able to hold a job,” she said. “They’re less equipped to be able to overcome the poverty and other circumstances that pull them down.”
A Daily Beast article stated Freddie Gray, who died at 25, never stood much of a chance.
“He was born prematurely to a mother who may have been using heroin while pregnant, and he spent the first few months of his life in a hospital. But even at that young age, he was tested for lead, and the tests found unusually high levels in his blood,” reports Daily Beast writer Michael Tomasky.
Unfortunately, Washington doesn’t seem to want to address this national problem.
“In June, House Republicans passed a bill that would slash federal funding to the U.S. Office of Lead Hazard Control and Healthy Homes by $35 million, almost a third of the agency’s total budget,” reported The Huffington Post.