The MLB steroids report, imported lead-containing products, and education

I have never knowingly used anabolic steroids. Anyone seeing me during my long-past sporting days (let alone now) would confirm that nothing in my performance ever even suggested I did. I have, however, handled imported products containing lead, most recently my half-working Christmas lights.  One did nothing for me; the other remains to be known. But the presence of both substances are, in odd ways, connected to public education (if not to each other).

MLB issued its long awaited report confirming what pundits have longer said: some players have used anabolic steroids and MLB did not do much about it. (Click here for one of many news reports about the report.) The Pennsylvania legislature and the public schools, at least, did not take the head-in-the-sand approach but were out in front of the curve on this one.

In 1989, Act 93 (35 P.S. §§ 807.1 – 807.5) mandated school rules to prohibit use of and provide education about anabolic steroids, as well as penalties for use-offenders. Something for MLB to think about.  If the Pennsylvania legislature can handle this issue, surely MLB could, too.

The percentage of special education students in Pennsylvania public schools has steadily increased since 2002-03, the first year for which PDE offers data to the public on-line (from 13.5% to 14.8%).   I believe that the percentages should remain, theoretically, consistent overtime (indeed, identification of hearing impaired, multiple disabilities, orthopedic impairment, and even emotional disturbance, among others, remain rather constant), absent some external factor, such as new or improved diagnostic criteria, which is often said to explain the increasing percentage of Autism Spectrum Disorder (“ASD”) identification (from 2.1% to 3.2%) or perhaps the increase in ADHD / other health impairment (from 2.0% to 4.4%). Others have said thimerosol used in childhood vaccines account for higher incidents of ASD, although we know that now is not the case.  Indeed, the CDC website states “Since 2001, with the exception of some influenza (flu) vaccines, thimerosal is not used as a preservative in routinely recommended childhood vaccines.” Yet the identification of autism keeps rising while, perhaps coincidentally, the identification of mental retardation is the only category to have a significant percentage decline, and in rough opposite proportion to ASD percentages. 

So, is this a matter of diagnostic criteria? Or, might it coincide with the avalanche of imported products containing lead such as toys from China and candy and spices from Mexico in the last 10-15 years as those economies developed? Probably not, but only good studies could say for certain that increases in learning disabilities and behavioral problems are not attributed to the apparently increasing and pervasive (re-)presence of lead in American society.

We educate the kids about the evils of anabolic steroids and turn a blind-eye when they age into the Steroid Era players. We do not tolerate lead in gas and paint, but accept it in cheap imports or even domestic vinyl products. One gets a $20 million plus report and plenty of media coverage to tell us what we already know. The other is ignored and has no report to tell us what we need to know.