Many presidential candidates have released climate change plans, but what about plans to address environmental health hazards like lead? Democratic candidate Julián Castro released a formal lead elimination plan Monday—making him the first White House hopeful to do so—and while the candidate is currently polling at less than one percentage point, that could really put the issue in the spotlight for the rest of the election.
Castro’s plan includes increased funding for lead poisoning prevention and lead remediation over 10 years, and the creation of a Presidential Taskforce on Lead in Communities to help coordinate the response between federal and local agencies. Another key part of his presidential platform is universal healthcare, which he includes in this plan. None of this will be cheap: the plan costs more than $5.1 billion a year, according to his website. He doesn’t offer details on how he plans to pay for all this, but it’s still encouraging to see a candidate talk about this subject at all.
The plan’s release follows Castro’s weekend visit to Flint, Michigan, the city most known for its 2014 lead water crisis that exposed nearly 100,000 people to lead-tainted drinking water. The city is still dealing with the fallout of the crisis. After all, the impacts of lead can last a lifetime; the neurotoxin can cause developmental delays and behavior problems among children who’ve been exposed.
The Flint water crisis played a key role in the last presidential election with a democratic debate between Senator Bernie Sanders (who’s running for president again) and Hillary Clinton taking place in the predominantly black city. It looks like Castro is trying to bring the focus back to Flint and lead, which affects half a million children younger than 5 in the United States. The candidate, who’s currently the mayor of San Antonio, Texas, has been campaigning heavily on his experience as former secretary of Housing and Urban Development back in 2014 under President Barack Obama, which is fitting given the power that secretary holds when it comes to combating household lead.
Mustafa Ali, the former environmental justice administrator at the Environmental Protection Agency who’s currently the vice president for environmental justice at the National Wildlife Federation, believes this will get presidential candidates to start thinking about the real-world impacts communities of color and low-income families face from environmental hazards.
“I’m very hopeful that this plan will motivate others,” Ali told Earther.
So far, other candidates haven’t offered this level of detail, but most have addressed the Flint water crisis at some point in their candidacy. Andrew Yang told our sister site The Root that the water crisis there was a “national tragedy.” Sanders, Senator Cory Booker, Senator Elizabeth Warren, Governor Jay Inslee, and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand all gave the city a nod via Twitter on the crisis’ five-year anniversary in April.
As Ali put it, this issue doesn’t have to exist anymore; eliminating lead is possible by replacing old lead pipes and informing home purchasers whether a house contains lead paint. Doing so, however, requires enough funding, strong policy, proper public education, consistent childhood lead testing, and effective training for medical professionals, Ali said. Castro’s plan covers most of these points.
“People are getting away with poisoning our next generation,” Ali said. “And that’s unacceptable.”