Reflections on Klitzman, Kass, and Freudenberg’s Coalition building to prevent childhood lead poisoning

While this article was written in 2006, and Klitzman, et al (2006) discuss lead poisoning in the water system of New York City, I have to ask, why there is no initiative federally to eliminate the poisons in our water, when, albeit only limitedly, unfortunately, the 14th amendment was used to break down some Jim Crow laws based on the interstate commerce clause. And in 2016, there is still an ongoing problem in Flint, Michigan and several other cities that no agency seems to want to deal with or fix.  What then?  How do we fix this?  There are water filters that can and will work, and yet states and cities are not stepping forward to provide these solutions or any others.

In the case of New York City, there was little agreement regarding what was to be done but there was a general consensus.  I suspect the same is the case with the water crisis in Flint.  Without coordinated efforts and funding from every person and agency concerned, little will be done.  I have to wonder why the various individuals and agencies involved, including city, state and federal public health agencies, medical practitioners, health educators, social workers have not yet met to determine how to solve the problem as quickly and efficiently as possible, unless major agencies involved in the Flint case is burying themselves in paperwork and bureaucracy so they don’t have to deal with what is an international human rights issue that requires more pressure, action, and punishment on all sides.

Admittedly, brief groups formed in New York City over the course of the last 30 years prior to this crisis, but the city initially lost interest.  Klitzman, et al (2006) explain the history of the lead poisoning crisis in New York, and it is one that dates back to the early 1980s and before where small groups of one sort or another attempted a solution until a coalition finally formed in 1983 that included social workers, community organizers, health educators, physicians, and housing activists.  While that should have been enough activist impetus to move the city to action, it wasn’t because the real estate industry is very powerful in New York.  Task forces were convened, a law suit was filed and yet the city, repeatedly in contempt of the Court’s verdict, did nothing and made a myriad of excuses to avoid dealing with preexisting lead in the buildings.  What the coalition’s pressure did accomplish, though, was an increase in regulations monitoring lead poisoning in children, lead inspections, as well as efforts lead by the government’s public health community, and the medical, academic, and nonprofit sectors.  But that took at least fifteen years to accomplish.  I wonder what protest would have accomplished and if it would have increased this timeline?  While I realize that protest is not necessarily singly effective, it plays a part in an overall strategy, though it wasn’t used here.  Klitzman, et al (2006) acknowledge the fact that the coalition may not have forced the necessary changes in how the city responded to the lead crisis, but that it may have been a confluence of local, state, and national forces forced the necessary changes.

Though not invasive lead poisoning, I wonder what New York City (the government of the city, state, and the people) would have done if faced with the same scenario that has affected more than children but a whole population, as in Flint, Michigan.  What I wonder is what can be taken from this scenario that Klitzman, et al (2006) describe and employed in the Flint Scenario?  This cannot take over twenty years to fix.  People will die if they haven’t already, and Flint isn’t the only city afflicted.

 

References:

Klitzman, S., Kass, D., & Freudenberg, N (2006). Coalition building to prevent childhood lead poisoning: A case study from New York City. In M. Minkler (Ed.), Community organizing and community building for health (2nd ed., pp. 314-327). New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

 

 

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