Ubiñas: Philly has failed its children in lead exposure

"This is an issue in which we all have to work together to come up with real solutions," State Sen. Vincent Hughes, D-Philadelphia, said Monday of lead paint in Philadelphia homes.

Man, we give good press conferences in Philly.

Some big, appalling story gets out - this time, the blockbuster story by my colleagues Barbara Laker, Wendy Ruderman, and Dylan Purcell about lead paint that's been poisoning our children - and politicians and activists materialize faster than ghosts on Halloween.

How fitting, then, that it was Halloween morning when a large group gathered inside City Hall on Monday to call for action on Philly's lead paint crisis. The gathering had it all: a respectable crowd, long faces, outrage, just the right amount of press to capture their call to action, belated as it was.

Forgive me if you think I'm coming down a little hard on our public officials, if my less than charitable observations ruin the visual they were going for, if I've got exactly nothing for public officials who want credit for a decrease in lead poisoning since 2006.

But you know what? Poor kids getting screwed over makes me angry, especially when it's hardly a new problem.

In case you missed it, the zip codes with the highest lead levels are also poorer and have older housing and overwhelmingly African American.

I lost count of the times those who took to the microphone Monday said they had been fighting for years. . . some for generations... to fix it.

Honestly, I was confused. Did someone expect a gold star for that revelation? Because nobody gets a pat on the, um, head, when children are still being poisoned in their own homes.

How about we hold off on the celebration until none of our kids is being poisoned at home, or better yet when the city's lead-exposure rate isn't higher than its surrounding suburban counties, or twice the national average as it was in 2014?

If our elected leaders are standing around a City Hall microphone and talking about a problem they all readily admit they know about and have been "working" on, it can only mean one thing:

We failed.

We failed our kids. Again.

My God, how much worse do things have to get for children in Philadelphia before we stop saying we're all about the children and start actually being about the children.

Welcome to life as a kid in Philadelphia, where a new study by Public Citizens for Children and Youth released on Monday revealed that life for many is even worse than it was during the depths of recession.

They live in poverty. We already have the highest child poverty rate of any large city in the nation. PCCY found that five years after the recession, in 2015, Philadelphia's child poverty rate continued to rise - to 38.3 percent, or 130,800, "nearly as many children as are enrolled in the entire School District of Philadelphia."

They go to bad schools where they get bad educations. Only about half the city's students in the district and charter schools were at grade level in reading or in math in 2014, the study found.

They walk down dangerous streets. In five weeks this summer, four children were hit by stray bullets that left then with injuries and lifelong trauma.

At the very least - the very least - Philadelphia's children should be safe in their own homes.

If you haven't already, I suggest you read the whole heartbreaking and infuriating story about our lead crisis. Read about children whose lives have forever been affected by a city's negligence. Read about how once again we fail to protect our most vulnerable.

If we weren't failing, almost 2,700 Philadelphia children age 6 and under who were tested wouldn't have harmful levels of lead in their blood.

If we weren't failing, the city's Public Health Department wouldn't have checked on the homes of only about 500 of the sickest children.

If we weren't failing, more than 1 percent of landlords would be complying with a 2012 city regulation that ordered that landlords renting homes built before 1978 to families with kids 6 and younger must have their residences certified as lead-safe.

If we weren't failing, health officials would have collected fines - any fines - as a result of the regulation.

Many of the officials and activists at City Hall on Monday talked about the real issue being about resources and funding. They are right about that: Everything boils down to money, even children's lives.

Public officials could have the best intentions, could introduce all kinds of laws, and without the money and will to enforce those laws, nothing will change.

This Halloween, I leave you with a line from the story that should haunt us all.

It's about a house that the Health Department deemed in compliance but still wasn't safe.

It's actually the last line: "Lead dust at very dangerous levels, invisible to the eye, was lying in wait for its next likely victim."

That should sicken and scare us all.

Email: ubinas@phillynews.com

Phone: 215-854-5943

On Twitter: @NotesFromHel

On Facebook: Helen.Ubinas