AFT Resolution


WHEREAS, there is no safe lead exposure level for children. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Advisory Committee on Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention[1] cited compelling evidence that even low blood lead levels (BLLs) are associated with IQ deficits, attention deficit disorders and poor academic performance. Most, if not all, of these effects appear to be irreversible, especially when children are exposed at very young ages; and

WHEREAS, an estimated 500,000 children in the United States have elevated blood lead levels (EBLLs) of 5 µg/dl[2] or more—a reference standard for elevated blood lead (EBL) used by the CDC to identify children in environments with lead exposure hazards. African-American and Hispanic children are overrepresented in the at-risk population;[3] and

WHEREAS, children in predominantly poor and minority neighborhoods in Flint, Mich., were unnecessarily and tragically exposed to high lead levels in drinking water when the city’s water system was switched to draw from the Flint River in 2014. The emergency manager and state of Michigan knew that the Flint River water was highly corrosive but failed to address the issue or alert citizens of Flint of the risk of lead leaching into their water; and

WHEREAS, AFT Michigan affiliates, citizens of Flint and community organizations, including Water You Fighting For, Concerned Pastors for Social Action, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Democracy Defense League, partnered with Virginia Tech to conduct a study of the toxicity of residential water in Flint after the switch, despite the reassurances of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality that the water was safe. A significant number of samples exceeded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency lead action level of 15 parts per billion (ppb), and the worst-case homes tested at 1,000 times higher than the EPA level; and

WHEREAS, a study of the lead levels of Flint children before and after the switch discovered a disturbing spike in blood lead levels. The study found that the rates of children 5 and under with elevated blood lead levels in ZIP codes with high water lead levels went from 2.5 percent (pre-switch) to 6.3 percent (post-switch). These children are overwhelmingly poor children of color. Non-Flint children showed no spike in elevated blood lead levels over the same period of time;[4] and

WHEREAS, the water crisis in Flint is an unprecedented man-made disaster, a betrayal of the public trust and a dangerous situation for many families who are not getting the support, resources and education needed; and

WHEREAS, the state of Michigan’s response has been inadequate in addressing the needs of the most marginalized populations, such as immigrant families, low-income residents and residents living in public housing; and

WHEREAS, the long-term medical and educational needs of Flint citizens still require significant study and program development; and

WHEREAS, even in the absence of comprehensive national surveillance data on childhood lead poisoning, lead toxicity in children appears to be a major public health problem. An overwhelming number of poor children throughout the United States continue to live in substandard, deteriorating housing that puts these children at risk of exposure to lead in paint, soil and water. For example, Michigan cities with a preponderance of old housing stock (pre-1950 and pre-1978) had comparatively high percentages of children with elevated blood lead levels—8.2 percent of tested children in Detroit 6 and under had elevated blood lead levels, compared with 1.9 percent for the entire state of Michigan.[5] Similar high percentages of children with EBLLs were found in Pittsburgh (8.32 percent), Philadelphia (10.19 percent) and Scranton (19.45 percent) in 2014;[6] and

WHEREAS, too many high-risk children are most likely never tested. In 2014, nearly 60 percent of Detroit children under 6 years of age were not tested.[7] Nearly 75 percent of Philadelphia children, 60 percent of Pittsburgh children and 85 percent of Scranton children under 7 went untested in 2014;[8] and

WHEREAS, the CDC Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program was stripped of funding in FY 2011, from $30 million to $2 million, and to this date has only recovered a little over half of the previous high; and

WHEREAS, the water crisis in Flint is the result of broader policies that include the long-term disinvestment in cities, an emergency manager law that nullified local democracy in low-income cities with majority-black populations, and an agenda that promotes austerity and privatization at the expense of the health, safety and education of residents; and

WHEREAS, lead in school water remains a significant risk to children throughout the United States. This year alone, major urban school districts, including Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Newark, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., announced that lead water concentrations above the EPA action level of 15 ppb had been found in numerous schools; and

WHEREAS, there are stunning gaps in the regulation of lead testing and remediation in school water. There are no EPA regulations requiring schools to test their water, and there are few existing state and district programs in place to routinely test and remediate lead levels in school water; and

WHEREAS, federal, state and local officials have yet to satisfactorily guarantee Flint residents—especially children—safe and clean drinking water. The federal and state governments have not come up with a comprehensive plan to replace hazardous water supply lines; and

WHEREAS, the technology and science have existed for several decades to guarantee every U.S. child and resident housing free of lead contamination, yet policymakers have neglected to adequately fund a nationwide effort; and

WHEREAS, there are no evidence-based educational interventions or medical treatment strategies that can fully compensate for the lifelong cognitive, social and emotional injuries endured by lead-poisoned children; and

WHEREAS, while Flint is the most obvious example of these policy decisions, it is not the only community that has been hurt. The Detroit Public Schools system, also overseen by emergency management, is another high-profile example of destruction caused by the state of Michigan in low-income communities of color:

RESOLVED, that the American Federation of Teachers will continue its support for the campaign of the citizens of Flint, AFT Michigan and Flint affiliates for permanent solutions and just reparations in their struggle to eliminate exposure to lead throughout the system, including in the delivery to homes, schools and commercial entities; and

RESOLVED, that the AFT will help in broadening the political narrative of the Flint water crisis, by connecting what’s happening in Flint to what’s happening in other communities around the country; and

RESOLVED, that the AFT, recognizing the larger scope of the issue of childhood lead poisoning, will advocate for federal legislation that:

  • Provides funding and incentives for local education agencies (LEAs) to test and remediate lead in school drinking water;
  • Promotes effective and timely responses to reports of lead contamination, such as by allowing the Federal Emergency Management Agency to release disaster relief funding to remediate widespread drinking water contamination;
  • Invests in improved public infrastructure, including potable central water and residential delivery systems, especially for struggling communities;
  • Establishes an enforceable national surveillance system to standardize testing, reporting and remediation related to childhood lead exposure;
  • Incentivizes lead testing and appropriate remediation in private housing, such as through tax credits for hazard abatement activities;
  • Provides funding for LEAs to prepare all school personnel to support children at risk of and affected by lead exposure with relevant cognitive, behavioral and social-emotional impacts; and
  • Supports collaboration across federal agencies working on the education of children from birth to age 18; school, housing and other public infrastructure; emergency response; environmental health, mental health, maternal and child health, physical health and public health insurance programs; and

RESOLVED, that the AFT will monitor and assess current state childhood lead poisoning prevention legislation and identify gaps in coverage and protection; and

RESOLVED, that the AFT will develop model state legislation to address gaps in surveillance and primary prevention, such as:

  • effective childhood lead screening programs for children ages 0 to 8;
  • routine state surveillance and reporting of childhood blood lead levels;
  • identification and remediation of localized sources significantly contributing to elevated childhood lead exposure, such as school drinking water, lead-based paint in housing and/or copper fixtures on household water mains; and
  • evidence-based remediation of public infrastructure that significantly contributes to childhood lead exposure, including in public housing and water systems, as well as raises awareness of the role of private infrastructure, such as plumbing in house-based early childhood education facilities, in childhood lead exposure; and

RESOLVED, that the AFT will continue to collaborate with partner organizations in public health and environmental health, such as the BlueGreen Alliance and Healthy Babies Bright Futures; and

RESOLVED, that the AFT will develop materials to educate members, leaders and community partners on childhood lead exposure, its impacts, strategies to serve and support affected children and families, and actionable prevention steps; and

RESOLVED, that the AFT will support, and keep its membership fully informed about, organizing efforts in Flint aimed at pressuring the government of Michigan to provide adequate resources to make our communities healthy and whole; and

RESOLVED, that the AFT will unequivocally support the repeal of Michigan’s emergency manager law, Public Act 436 (2012), and support the Flint community in its ongoing efforts to have Flint declared a federal disaster area.

[1] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Advisory Committee on Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention. “Low Level Lead Exposure Harms Children: A Renewed Call for Primary Prevention.” Jan. 4, 2012, lx, /nceh/lead/ACCLPP/Finai_Document_011212.pdf.

[2] CDC Response to Advisory Committee on Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Recommendations in “Low Level Lead Exposure Harms Children: A Renewed Call of Primary Prevention.” June 7, 2012.

[3] Lanphear et al. Environmental Lead Exposure during Early Childhood. J. Pediatrics 2002;140:40-47.

[4] Pediatric Lead Exposure in Flint, Ml: Concerns from the Medical Community. 2015. Hurley Medical Center.

[5] Scott et al. (2016). Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program.  2014 Data Report on Lead Testing and Elevated Levels: Michigan. Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program.

[6] 2014 Childhood Lead Surveillance Annual Report. Pennsylvania Department of Health.

[7] Op. Cit. 2014 Data on Lead Testing and Elevated Levels: Michigan.

[8] Op. Cit 2014 Childhood Lead Surveillance Annual Report. Pennsylvania Department of Health.