John Oliver turned his righteous outrage to lead poisoning in his weekly show last night. And, as he tends to do, did it with humor.
"There is no safe level of lead," Oliver said. "It's one of those things so dangerous that you shouldn't even let a little bit inside you, like heroin, or Jeremy Piven."
He started with the Flint, Michigan water crisis and expanded from there, pointing out that there are 2.1 million homes in the U.S. where children under age six live that also have a lead dust hazard. The Centers for Disease Control and Preventionestimates that 535,000 children under age six have an elevated blood lead level.
"Lead is almost as much a scourge in young children's homes as 'Frozen' merchandise," he said, to laughter.
Lead is a naturally occurring mineral, but is toxic to humans, especially children, and can lead to irreversible neurodevelopmental problems, including intellectual disability.
Oliver recounted the "major public health victory" starting in the U.S. in the 1970s when lead was removed from paint and then from gasoline. Children's blood lead levels plummeted.
In 2000, the federal government determined that totally removing lead from all homes, nationwide, would cost $16.6 billion every year for a decade, a very steep price tag.
Instead, the federal government funded a lead hazard control program in homes where families where low-income families lived. While $230 million was recommended, the HUD's Lead Hazard Control Program was never funded above $176 million, Oliver said, and has been steadily declining since 2003.
This year, the allocation is $110 million, not even as much as Ride Along 2 has made so far, a movie the New York Post said was "as funny as lead poisoning." (How Oliver put those facts together, I don't know, but it' s true, follow the links.)
Oliver turned to all manner of archival news clips during his history lesson, including a 20-year-old clip from "Sesame Street" featuring a song about protecting yourself from lead.
"It's clearly time to address the problem again," Oliver said, and went off to visit "Sesame Street" where Elmo, Rosita and even Oscar teamed up to sing a song motivating everyone to conquer the problem.