Julián Castro, the former Housing and Urban Development secretary now running for president, wants to eliminate lead poisoning. He laid out the first dedicated plan on the issue of any 2020 candidate after a visit to Flint, Michigan, over the weekend.
Castro is proposing to set up a presidential task force on lead, which would be “charged with eliminating lead poisoning as a major public health threat,” and the plan would include a national assessment of communities at risk of lead poisoning.
“Today I’m putting forward a plan to combat lead exposure across the country, and to ensure that no families experience what those in Flint have had to endure,” Castro said in a statement to BuzzFeed News.
He would ask Congress to allocate $5 billion per year for 10 years to replace lead pipes and address lead contamination in paint and soil “in areas of highest need,” as well as an additional $100 million per year toward preventing lead poisoning in children.
For people whose blood has high levels of lead, Castro’s plan includes provisions for treating lead poisoning under universal health care, mandatory lead testing for children under 2 years old, and “support services including counseling, tutoring, education on nutritional needs.”
Flint’s water supply was contaminated after city and state officials chose to switch the city’s water supply from Detroit to the Flint River in 2014. The corrosive water from the Flint River leached lead out of the city’s pipes and into people’s drinking water, in addition to the other toxins contained in Flint River water. Castro’s plan addresses some of the problems with the federal response, including when he was leading HUD.
He would, for example, ask Congress to amend the federal rule that prohibits man-made disasters from being declared national disasters, and establish rules for federal agencies to communicate with local and state agencies if elevated lead levels are found in a community.
In 2016, President Barack Obama declared a federal emergency in Flint, which allowed some emergency resources to go to the city, but the response fell short of the amount of aid that could be provided under a disaster declaration.