Last Week Tonight Television

John Oliver and the experts on ‘Sesame Street’ sing about the enduring problem of lead poisoning

"We can't just act like it's not there the way that we all pretend that the public swimming pool is not 3% child urine."

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John Oliver discussed lead poisoning with the cast of Sesame Street in this week’s Last Week Tonight. Much has been said about lead contamination in water systems this year after the crisis in Flint, Michigan. “So we all care about lead in Flint now, which is great,” he said. “Unfortunately, the problem is not just in Flint.” USA Today recently reported finding lead in nearly 2,000 water systems in the U.S. Even worse, though, is the lead paint dust in 2.1 million homes that house children under 6.

“There is no safe level of lead. It’s one of those things that is so dangerous you shouldn’t let even a little bit inside you— much like heroin or Jeremy Piven,” says Oliver. “Even low-level exposure can lead to irreversible damage, like lower IQs, anti-social behavior, and reduced attention span.”

Many countries banned lead in the 20s, but the U.S didn’t even try until the 70s and 80s, and “the lead industry did not go down without a ridiculous fight.” Oliver shows a clip of the former president of Lead Industries Association saying that Americans have never been healthier, so lead must not be bad.

Despite new legislation banning lead, America still has tons of existing paint and pipes that need to be replaced, and that has been deemed too expensive an endeavor. “We can’t just act like it’s not there the way that we all pretend that the public swimming pool is not 3% child urine,” says John.

During the debate in the 80s over banning lead, Sesame Street had a segment about the dangers of lead poisoning, so, naturally, Oliver thought it necessary to talk to the experts about the problem: Elmo, Rosita, and Oscar the Grouch. Watch the clip to see them discuss the issue.

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