Environmental Research Foundation, July 18, 2006


Hi, folks--

Should we assume that childhood poisoning is a messaging problem? Or even an information problem?

These approaches assume that the permanent (unelected) government simply doesn't know that children are being poisoned or what it's costing. According to this view, if we just provide compelling facts they'll come to their senses and change their behavior. Can anyone really believe that this is the case? History certainly suggests otherwise.

Let's look at the well-documented example of toxic lead.

In 1992, Rachel's News #294 laid out the history of toxic lead exposures of children, including what was known about childhood poisoning starting in 1892. By 1920 it was clear that U.S. children were being poisoned (Europe and Australia was beginning to ban lead in paint by that time). By 1950, it was well-documented that really large numbers of children were being poisoned, and rather severely. Rachel's also documented the provisional (elected) government's response, which was a Great Wringing of Hands. You can find the history here:


In 2000, Rachel's News ran a 3-part series, filling in more historical details about the poisoning of children in the U.S. -- the series was called "Dumbing Down the Children."

Part 1: Rachel's News #687: http://www.rachel.org/bulletin.cfm?Is sue_ID=1704

Part 2: Rachel's News #688: http://www.rachel.org/bulletin.cfm?Is sue_ID=1707

Part 3: Rachel's News #689: http://www.rachel.org/bulletin.cfm?Is sue_ID=1713

Since then at least two major studies have shown that there would be very substantial multi-billion dollar savings to the national economy if we reduced lead exosures below current levels. More Great Wringing of Hands.



In 2004, Rachel's reported new estimates, that removing lead from U.S. housing stock would cost $16 billion but would result in an immediate benefit of $43 billion, with very substantial multi-billion-dollar profits to the national economy EVERY YEAR thereafter. We also showed that, at the present rate of lead removal, U.S. housing stock will remain contaminated for the next 120 years.

It's pretty clear that the permanent government -- and perhaps many in the provisional government as well -- believe toxic lead in children is desirable -- desirable enough to forego tens of billions of dollars in savings each year. Put another way, the nation is willing to accept costs of tens of billions of dollars each year for the benefit of keeping many of its children (particularly its poor children and children of color) behind the eight-ball.


All the Rachel's News stories have been based on readily-available information from the open literature. Much of the information comes directly from the provisional government itself, and from the newspaper of record, the New York Times. No secrets here.

I think this goes to the heart of an information-and-messaging strategy, doesn't it?

If the permanent government will change its ways when confronted with the facts, then we just need to gather more facts and package them better.

But if history is any guide, the permanent government is NOT moved by mere facts or mere multi-billion-dollar savings offered by pollution prevention. For some reason (which each of us can decide for himself or herself), the permanent government calculates that it is better off when large numbers of children are poisoned each year even at considerable cost to GDP.

If this is the case, then campaigns built around "more information" and "more effective messaging" are likely to have quite limited success, are they not? --Peter Montague