Treaty 1 Territory, Winnipeg MB - Manitoba Liberals have released a major report on the serious effects of exposure to lead in order to spur governments to take the issue more seriously.
The 127-page report, Lead and Crime in Manitoba: Urgent Action Needed, reviews extensive studies which show that lead exposure leads to long-term mental health and addictions challenges - including consistent links between learning difficulties and violent crime.
It has been a common practice across North America to situate toxic or risky industries near communities of people who have less political power. As a result, marginalized and vulnerable people are more likely to be exposed to industrial chemicals. Their health suffers as a consequence.
Research shows that higher and lower exposure to lead in those communities closely tracks violent crime rates. The report analyses the results of more than 5,000 blood lead tests in Manitoba from 2011-2018. Those tests showed an increase in high lead blood levels from just over 8% of tests in 2011 to 12% in 2018 (at or above 0.24 umol/L). The geographic distribution of high blood lead level tests matches the geographic distribution of lead exposure and of crime in Manitoba.
In 2017, the PCs released a 2008 report showing elevated lead levels in neighbourhoods including Weston, North Point Douglas and St. Boniface. While the PCs blamed the NDP for a cover-up, the report itself showed that the Manitoba Government knew about high lead levels as far back as 1988, and throughout the Filmon PC government era, in which Brian Pallister was an MLA and Minister.
"For 30 years, studies showed high levels of lead contamination in communities across Winnipeg and Manitoba, and governments chose to cover it up instead of clean it up," said Gerrard. "There are concrete steps we can take right now to test, treat and clean up so that people and communities alike are safer and healthier."
Dr. Jon Gerrard, Manitoba Liberal MLA and Health Critic penned the report in response to the PC Government's denials about the serious impacts of lead.
Gerrard, who was a researcher and pediatrician before he entered politics, asked a question about lead poisoning and links to violent crime. Then-Minister of Sustainable Development Rochelle Squires, who managed the environment file, denied that lead could have any such effects.
The report reviews lead exposure of Manitobans due to industrial activities, lead paint in older homes, lead pipes carrying drinking water, and documented high lead levels in soil or in the atmosphere.
Manitoba Liberals say governments need to act immediately because the harm of lead exposure can be reduced with proper treatment.
The top recommendations in the report include:
Routine Blood testing for lead in children between ages 1 and 3, starting in priority areas identified as having high lead levels and/or exposure and building to universal testing throughout Manitoba. The State of New York has adopted universal blood testing.
Treat lead exposure to minimize its long-term effects, including nutritional and educational support for parents and families.
Detect and eliminate the source of exposure - lead paint, soil, water.
Work with the City of Winnipeg and other municipalities to enhance water treatments to protect Manitobans from lead contamination, and hasten the removal of lead water pipes.
Fund research to understand the links between crime and lead exposure in Manitoba in particular in relation to geography, to poverty, to ethnic background and to involvement with child and family services.
All of the measures would ultimately save more than they cost in healthier children, improved employment and reduced crime.
Manitoba Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said action on lead contamination is long overdue, especially given mountains of new evidence showing its serious harm.
"There is really no excuse for the decades of inaction and denial we've seen on lead," said Lamont. "More than anything, this should be seen as an opportunity to make lives better for children and families in Weston, Point Douglas, St. Boniface, and across the province. The time to act is now."
The full report can also be downloaded here.