Senate Democrats welcome the Bush administration's new efforts to reduce lead poisoning but say the plan falls short of protecting millions of children from mental and physical problems.
The private Alliance to End Childhood Lead Poisoning says the strategy offers promise but is "doomed to collect dust on a shelf" unless the government puts more money into the effort.Administration officials outlined the $974 million, five-year plan Thursday before the Senate Environment and Public Works subcommittee on toxic substances.
"Childhood lead poisoning is entirely preventable," Dr. James Mason, assistant secretary for health at the Department of Health and Human Services, told the panel. "We believe that a concerted, society-wide effort could eliminate this disease in the U.S. in the next 20 years."
The cost of the plan would be shared by government and the private sector, "and the overall benefit to society, in terms of human productivity, will be incontrovertible," Mason said.
But Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., the subcommittee's chairman, and Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., said the plan left them disappointed. The administration's fiscal 1992 budget proposes about $50 million as the federal share next year.
"Where will the remaining $924 million in the next four years come from?" Lieberman asked.
Mason declined to estimate what the federal share in future years would be.
But unless the problem is confronted, he said, "society is going to pay a horrendous cost" for criminal justice, welfare and remedial education that will be necessary for those harmed by lead exposure.
An estimated 3 million to 4 million children under age 6 - 17 percent of the total age group - may have enough lead in their blood to cause mental and behavioral problems as well as physical effects, Mason said.