A New Organization—Unleaded Kids—Aims to Protect Children from Cumulative Impact of Lead from All Sources

Only National Effort Focusing on All Sources of Lead

(Washington, DC, December 21, 2023) The scientific consensus is clear: there is no safe level of exposure to lead. Children are exposed to lead from a wide array of sources including our homes, our food, our drinking water, our environment, and even the products we buy. Yet, no national organization focuses on the cumulative impact of these exposures. In the United States, the risk falls most severely on children from low-income families, making this a matter of environmental justice. While blood lead levels have dropped significantly in the past 50 years, progress is flattening out well short of zero, and the latest research confirms that the harm to kids’ brains undermines their ability to thrive.

Unleaded Kids, a nonprofit, public interest organization launching today, will address major gaps in lead policy in the United States. Tom Neltner, a leader in protecting children from lead poisoning over the past 25 years, founds the group and will serve as its initial executive director until a permanent one is hired. Unleaded Kids will build on Neltner’s track record of success collaborating with businesses, elected officials, advocacy groups, health professionals, government agencies, community-based organizations, and individuals to better protect children from harmful chemicals. Neltner is moving from his 8-year tenure as senior director at the Environmental Defense Fund.

“Our country’s long history of using lead in paint, pipes, gasoline, food cans, and other products threatens kids and, ultimately, our society’s future,” said Tom Neltner. “And even though we know all too well about the dangers of lead, we are still allowing small engine airplanes to use leaded aviation gas and numerous industries to emit tons of lead into the air each year. All too often, people with the least resources are at greatest risk, especially in communities where lead has been smelted, used, recycled, and disposed. Our commitment to environmental justice demands that we do more. Unleaded Kids will work to bring children’s exposure to lead, especially in the hardest hit communities, closer to zero.”

In 2024, Unleaded Kids’ top policy priority will be reducing children’s exposure to lead from deteriorated lead-based paint and home renovations gone wrong. Despite frequent headline stories about other sources, lead-contaminated dust in the home remains the greatest source of severe lead poisoning among young children in the U.S.. Health departments across the country that investigate children with high blood lead levels overwhelmingly identify lead-based paint as the primary source, with other sources exacerbating the harm. While we cannot completely eliminate lead from our homes, our food, our drinking water, and our environment, we need to do more to protect our children’s futures.

“Ending exposure to lead is vital for our children and future generations to live full, healthy lives,” said Sarah Vogel, senior vice president for Healthy Communities at Environmental Defense Fund. “EDF is committed to our long-standing work anchored in science to strengthen protections for children and vulnerable populations for which there is no safe exposure level. We look forward to collaborating with Tom Neltner and Unleaded Kids to make meaningful progress.”

“Protecting children from lead demands addressing all sources of exposure and directing attention, resources, and action to those at highest risk. It’s great to see Unleaded Kids catalyzing concerted action to prevent children’s continuing exposure to lead,” said Don Ryan, who served as executive director for the Alliance to End Childhood Lead Poisoning from 1990 to 2005.

“Lead poisoning is a problem we can solve,” said Amanda Reddy, executive director of the National Center for Healthy Housing. “We can prevent new generations from being unnecessarily and unjustly exposed to and harmed by lead’s toxic effects but only if we commit to looking at lead exposure holistically and implementing comprehensive solutions that address the entire range of exposures within a given community. Tom Neltner is a proven ally and Unleaded Kids is a welcome partner in that fight.”

“The name Unleaded Kids is also the goal—to push our government to do for our children what they did for gasoline in 1996, to get lead out of our homes, our drinking water and our food—and by doing so, to get the lead out of our babies’ brains,” said Charlotte Brody, national director of Healthy Babies Bright Futures.

“The toxic legacy of lead has undermined the growth, development and health of our children and our communities for far too long,” said Ruth Ann Norton, president and chief executive officer of the Green and Healthy Homes Initiative. “There is a deep need to continue to strengthen our nation’s commitment to eradicate all sources of lead that undermine our collective health. As an organization committed to ending lead poisoning, the Green & Healthy Homes Initiative looks forward to working with Unleaded Kids to advance this mission.”

If you are interested in learning more, contact Tom Neltner at tneltner@unleadedkids.org or visit Unleaded Kids at www.unleadedkids.org.