On January 16, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) published a new rule to ensure a quicker response when young children living in federally owned or assisted housing experience elevated levels of lead in their blood. The rule lowers the Department’s threshold of lead considered safe in a child’s blood to match the more protective guidance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, from 20 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood (µg/dL) to 5. It also establishes more comprehensive testing and evaluation procedures for the housing where such children reside. Childhood lead poisoning has long been documented as causing reduced intelligence, low attention span, and reading and learning disabilities, in additional to behavioral challenges. Read HUD’s new rule here.
A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association on December 13, 2016 provided insight into the degree of harm to babies from exposure to the Zika virus in pregnancy. In the study, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and state health department scientists report:
- 6% of babies from pregnancies with Zika virus infection have one or more birth defects; 11% if the mother was infected during the first trimester of the pregnancy.
- The proportion of pregnancies with birth defects was similar for pregnant women who did or who did not have symptoms, about 6% in each group.
- Most of the affected babies in the study had the well-recognized microcephaly, but some had other structural brain differences.
On Sept 23, the Congressional Public Health Caucus sponsored a briefing, “Public Health 101 – Zika: A Case Study in Emergency Response across the Public Health Continuum.” The briefing brought together experts working on the frontlines of the public health continuum to mitigate this public health emergency – from Zika virus surveillance, to vaccine research & development, to maternal, fetal and child health, to supporting individuals with disabilities and their caregivers. The speakers were Rep. Rob Wittman (R-VA); Phyllis Arthur, Managing Director for Infectious Diseases and Diagnostics Policy, Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO); Janet Hamilton, Surveillance Section Administrator, Florida Department of Health; Dr. Edward R.B. McCabe, Chief Medical Officer, March of Dimes; Dr. Laura E. Riley, Vice Chair, Obstetrics, Massachusetts General Hospital Division of Maternal Fetal Medicine; and Nancy J. Murray, President, The Arc of Greater Pittsburgh at ACHIEVA. There over 19,000 cases of Zika in the U.S and territories with over 2,000 cases among pregnant women. See the latest figures here.
After months of hearings, deliberation, and debate, the House passed ameasure to address the Zika outbreak. The $1.1 billion package includes: $476 million to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for mosquito control, $230 million to the National Institutes of Health for vaccine development, $165 million to the State Department and the US Agency for International Development to respond to outbreaks overseas, and $86 million for emergency response research through the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority. The package is offset by about $750 million from unspent Ebola funds and funds for the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance exchanges in U.S. territories, in addition to another $100 million from the Department of Health and Human Services administrative fund. The measure is strongly opposed by Democrats due to the low funding amount, the offsets, and policy riders on environmental regulations and contraception for women at risk for the Zika virus. The Senate may vote on the package this week, though they appear to not have the 60 votes needed to overcome procedural obstacles. President Obama has already indicated his intent to veto the bill.
On June 7, the Senate passed the legislation to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act that passed the House on May 24th. The bill now heads to the President’s desk, where he is expected to sign it. The Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act (HR 2576) will regulate chemicals so that they no longer present unreasonable risks of injury to health or environment. In recent years, many chemicals commonly used in every day products have been linked to increased risks for learning and developmental disabilities as well as cancer, infertility, and obesity. While the legislation contains reforms that should enable the EPA to tackle the worst chemicals, it falls short of what public health advocates have sought. Read a fact sheet on the bill here and learn more at chemical safety here.
The House passed a new version of the Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act (HR 2576) on May 24. This bill would regulate chemicals so that they no longer present unreasonable risks of injury to health or the environment. In recent years, many chemicals commonly used in every day products have been linked to increased risks for learning and developmental disabilities as well as cancer, infertility, and obesity. If the Senate passes the bill, it will be the first major environmental legislation to pass Congress since the mid-1990s. While the legislation contains reforms that should enable the Environmental Protection Agency to tackle the most dangerous chemicals, it falls short of what public health advocates have sought. Learn more at http://saferchemicals.org/.
The National Safe and Healthy Housing Coalition is holding a webinar to launch Find It, Fix It, Fund It: a Lead Elimination Action Drive on Wednesday, May 25, 2016 at 1:00 pm, EDT. The drive has four components: a National Roundtable to develop new policies and promote legislation and administrative advocacy; a Policy Workgroup focused on federal funding; a Grassroots Workgroup; and a Media Outreach Workgroup. Participants will have the opportunity to provide input and sign up for the drive’s components. Registerhere.
On May 18, the House passed a freestanding $622 million funding bill, the Zika Response Appropriations Act (H.R. 5243), to address the Zika virus. The costs for this supplemental spending bill are fully offset by using $352 million in “unobligated” money for the Ebola outbreak in 2014 and $270 million in “unused administrative funding” from the Department of Health and Human Services. Funds would be allocated for fiscal year 2016, which means they could be used during the next five months. The Senate followed suit on May 19 by passing a two-bill spending measure (H.R. 2577) that includes a $1.1 billion agreement on responding to the Zika virus for four months. Passage of bills with such significant differences in the amount of funding promises a complicated conference process between the House and Senate. Public health and disability advocates are seeking amounts closer to the President’s request of $1.9 billion which may have to play out over time with additional spending bills.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers (R-KY) announced that he will release a stand-alone Zika funding bill on Monday, May 16. He declined to offer a specific dollar figure, but said it would be lower than the $1.1 billion emergency funding proposal in the Senate. Chairman Rogers has insisted that the package be offset by cuts to other programs or by reprogramming. On the Senate side, lawmakers are expected to take votes on three different Zika aid packages on Tuesday. Two of the measures are emergency funding packages and one from Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) contains offsets. See The Arc’s action alert.
Representatives Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA) and Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA) and Senators John Cornyn (R-TX), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Mazie Hirono (D-HI) will host separate briefings today on “What You Need to Know About Zika and Birth Defects.” Panelists will be Coleen Boyle, Director of the CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities; Cynthia Moore, Director of the CDC Division of Congenital and Developmental Disorders; and Dr. Kristy Murray, Associate Professor, Pediatrics-Tropical Medicine, Baylor College of Medicine. Panelists will discuss what scientists are learning about adverse birth outcomes associated with the Zika virus and what CDC and partner organizations around the world are doing to learn more.