Have one out of three of America’s children been lead poisoned at one time or another? Are government-approved levels of lead contamination really safe for our kids today? When did the lead industry first know its product was dangerous?
Mother of four Tamara Rubin explores these and other questions in the documentary Mislead: American’s Secret Epidemic. Rubin and her husband were prompted by the personal experience of having two of their children lead poisoned when a professional renovation on their historic home went amiss. They blame a contractor for not using safe lead-paint removal techniques.
Rubin founded the nonprofit Lead Safe America Foundation three years ago today, providing education and resources for Americans who find themselves victims of lead poisoning or who want to prevent lead poisoning. MisLead is a project of the LSAF, with Rubin interviewing top medical, science, history and policy experts on the topic of lead. The film reminds us that although leaded gasoline and paint were mostly phased out of production in the 1970s, our children are still at risk from the legacy those products leave behind as well as from new sources of lead contamination in everyday products.
The film emphasizes that home renovations need to follow best practices for removing or sealing off decades-old lead paint that is likely to be deteriorating right now in millions of older homes. Rubin interviews other mothers with experiences similar to hers, with children exposed to lead dust in the air they breathe while some construction crews and landlords seem unaware of the safety practices they should follow.
MisLead is full of expert interviews, mind-boggling statistics, and unsettling questions. It is also largely auto-biographical for Rubin’s family. They discover firsthand that lead poisoning means permanent brain damage for children. As the audience, we get uncomfortably close to the Rubin child with the most severe lead poisoning (who was poisoned as a baby) as he gets easily frustrated and throws tantrums. The young boy says on camera, “I get angry and I can’t control my anger at all. I throw stuff and I sometimes break stuff that I like a lot.” His mother says he is on board with sharing this personal story and understands how he can help other kids.
Medical experts in the film explain that lead poisoning is commonly misdiagnosed as or can cause attention deficit disorder, autistic-like behavior, memory loss, learning disabilities, immune system dysfunction and more problems. They recommend prevention of lead poisoning and blood testing of all children through the teen years. We hear stunning statistical correlations between lead poisoning and troubled schoolchildren, even violent crime rates.
The film, in its preliminary version that I screened, is a bit long and winding, yet it earnestly shares with the intent to educate. If you have a chance to screen MisLead, you’ll likely be shocked to learn so much more about that 70s problem that most of us thought already went away. Apparently not.