Remarks of HUD Secretary Julián Castro National Environmental Health Association 2016 AEC and HUD Healthy Homes Conference

Good afternoon everyone. It's great to be back in my hometown, and to join you for this important event.

Thank you Dr. (David) Dyjack for that kind introduction, and for leading us in that moment of silence for the public health workers who lost their lives in the tragedy at San Bernardino.

They were your friends and your colleagues. You all know firsthand the suffering caused by our nation's gun violence epidemic.

And this past weekend, our nation suffered another devastating attack -- this time in Orlando, where 49 innocent people were murdered for celebrating their pride in who they are, and who they love.

This is the deadliest mass shooting in our nation's history. It is a reminder that we must remain steadfast in protecting the American people from those who threaten our security.

And I hope we can all agree -- no matter where we stand on the issue of gun rights -- that we must act to stop these heinous killings, once and for all. We are long past the time for decisive action to protect innocent Americans from the epidemic of gun violence.

My thoughts and prayers go out to the victims in Orlando, and to the families and friends grappling with this senseless loss. I know that the American people will never bow to hatred and fear, and that we'll find strength in the principles that bind us as Americans. In equality, acceptance, and respect for all.

It's with a heavy heart that we return to the important cause that's brought us together today. I want to recognize Tammy Treviño, Michelle Miller, and Warren Friedman from HUD for all their great work. And I want to thank everyone here today, activists and advocates fighting to make American homes safer and healthier.

At HUD, we call ourselves the Department of Opportunity because housing can serve as a powerful platform to spark progress in people's lives. Where people live shapes how they live, from the jobs they can find, to the schools their kids attend, and the transportation options they can access.

We also know that good health is a vital part of someone's ability to seize any opportunity that comes along. That's why we're focused on eliminating one of the biggest threats to children living in HUD-assisted housing.

There's no doubt that America has a long and complex history with our use of lead. For centuries, we used it to build stronger pipes for drinking water, and to make our household paints more durable.

And from the start, there were many who suspected that lead was too dangerous for such widespread use. In fact, a study linking childhood poisoning with exposure to lead-based paint appeared as early as 1904. Researchers witnessed young children who suffered nerve damage, blindness, convulsions, even death.

Yet despite such evidence, when health officials in places like New York, Chicago, and Baltimore sought to restrict the use of lead-based paint in the 1940s and 50s, the lead industry downplayed their concerns. Instead, it blamed lead poisoning on parents -- and particularly on parents of color -- who didn't stop their children from ingesting dust and paint chips laced with lead.

It took years of grassroots campaigning, from local leaders and advocates like you, to overcome these special interests. Folks like you who understood the justness of their cause, and who wouldn't let their truth be denied.

Their victories came one city, one community, and one state at a time. And in 1978, the United States finally issued a nationwide ban on the use of lead-based house paint -- a hard-fought triumph for defenders of public health.

Since then, the federal government has continued to safeguard American children from the dangers of lead. For nearly 30 years, the CDC has partnered with state and local health departments across the nation, and it's funded nearly 60 different initiatives to prevent childhood lead poisoning.

And I'm proud to say that HUD has done its part to make homes safer for our next generation. Since 1993, our Office of Lead Hazard Control and Healthy Homes has served nearly 200,000 households, across 45 states, through its grant programs alone. And we've used our enforcement powers to remove lead and other toxic substances from an additional 180,000 homes.

Now, it's time to build on this progress. HUD estimates that there are still 3.6 million homes in the United States in which a child under age 6 lives that contain a lead-dust hazard.

The most tragic fact of this situation? Often times, it's the most vulnerable Americans who face the greatest risk. It's parents who live in older and poorly maintained buildings. Folks who don't have the money to move their families into newly constructed or rehabilitated units.

The current crisis in Flint provides a stark reminder of the threat that lead still poses to many communities. And earlier this year, I had the chance to visit Flint to meet with local leaders, and to listen to the concerns of its residents.

What I heard shook me to my core. I heard a community outraged that innocent children had been endangered. People who felt helpless and afraid to live in their own homes, the places where we're supposed to feel safest, and most secure.

We all know the crisis in Flint was caused by lead in the city's water supply, something that falls outside the scope of HUD's work. But the National Institutes of Health has found that the greatest threat posed by lead doesn't come in the form of contaminated water. Instead, it comes from the presence of lead-based paint in American homes. And it's clear that HUD can play a significant role in protecting more children from the dangers of lead.

So today, I'm proud to announce a series of bold new steps. Steps designed to help ensure that no child in HUD-assisted housing is endangered by lead.

First, we're improving how we identify and control lead hazards. This includes revising our Lead Safe Housing Rule to align with the guidelines set forth by the CDC, a measure that should expand protections for nearly 7,000 children. And it includes our efforts to develop a consistent standard for water quality across all HUD-supported properties.

Second, we're evaluating the effectiveness of our current lead-prevention policies, and developing strategies to make them better going forward.

Third, we're strengthening our inspection process, and stepping-up enforcement against those who break the rules, and endanger young children.

And fourth, we're partnering with leaders in philanthropy, and at all levels of government, to connect more HUD-assisted residents with resources that protect them from lead. This includes working with local health departments to help make free blood-lead level testing available to every child living in a HUD-assisted home who's under the age of 6. And we're collaborating with folks from the CDC, the EPA, and the Department of Health and Human Services to develop innovative solutions for tackling the challenges posed by lead.

These are just some of the measures we're announcing today, and I promise that we'll keep working to create new steps that advance this vital cause.

And as we push to make our homes, our neighborhoods, and our communities safer from lead, we won't forget that the fight doesn't stop there. We'll continue our commitment to removing other toxic substances found in our nation's homes. Substances like carbon monoxide, radon, and mold.

Earlier this morning, HUD announced $47 million in new grants that will help address lead and other hazards for more than 3,100 low-income households, including families right here in San Antonio. Research shows that every dollar spent on removing home health hazards saves at least 17 dollars in costs like hospital visits and missed time from work. So these investments should make a tremendous impact for communities across the nation.

Of course, the importance of our mission is about much more than the dollars we save, and the units we improve. It's about the people, and especially the young children, who can live healthier lives thanks to our work.

Young people like DeWayne Young, a young man from Baltimore. DeWayne suffers from asthma, and for a long time his symptoms were made worse by mold and allergens found in his home.

In a single year, DeWayne's mother Lekquan rushed him to the hospital 8 different times because of his severe asthma attacks. They spent the equivalent of three full weeks in the emergency room or in the doctor's office.

Fortunately, the folks at the Green and Healthy Homes Initiative inspected the Young's house. And they made a series of repairs that eliminated its health hazards and improved its ventilation.

The change was dramatic. The next year, rather than spending weeks in a doctor's office, DeWayne enjoyed a perfect school attendance record, and made the honor roll. And as Lekquan spent less time in the emergency room, and more time at her job, she got a promotion, something that helped her open a college fund for her son.

DeWayne's story illustrates a fundamental truth: that a safe and stable home can lay the foundation for a family's health, happiness, and future success. But for every story like DeWayne's, and for every family we protect, there are many others that need our help.

Too many children in America have enough obstacles to overcome. Kids that see their opportunities in life limited by the color of their skin, or by the ZIP code where they grow up. They shouldn't also have to come home and worry about the water they drink or the air that they breathe.

Every child in America deserves the chance to live in a safe and healthy home. And HUD will continue our commitment to make that a reality for every family we serve. Through our new steps to help eliminate lead and other dangerous hazards from all HUD-assisted housing. And through our efforts to press Congress for the authority and for the resources we need to accomplish our mission.

I know that the folks in this room will keep fighting with us until this mission is won. That you'll carry on the legacy of those advocates who fought in past decades against the lead industry, and on behalf of American children and their families.

I want to thank you for all that you've done, and for all that you'll continue to do. I know that your work is profoundly local. So I hope you'll use this day, and this entire week, to forge relationships that inspire powerful grassroots change for the people you serve -- one family at a time.

And I have faith that, together, we can make this nation safer, healthier, and stronger than ever.

Thank you very much, and have a great conference!