John Oliver calls attention to lead poisoning with help from ‘Sesame Street’

Sometimes corporate synergy can be a force for good.

On Sunday’s “Last Week Tonight,” John Oliver teamed up with “Sesame Street” stars and HBO stablemates Elmo, Rosita and Oscar to raise awareness about lead poisoning.

The issue has been in the news of late, largely due to the water crisis in Flint, Mich. But as Oliver noted, lead paint dust poses an even larger threat to public health: According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, some 2.1 million homes in the U.S. contain a lead dust hazard and a child under 6.

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It is “almost as much of a scourge in young children’s home as ‘Frozen’ merchandise,” Oliver quipped.

Perhaps even scarier is the fact it takes a tiny amount -- as little as 10 milligrams -- of lead to have an effect a young person’s health. As Oliver put it, “It’s so dangerous you shouldn’t even let a little bit of it inside of you, much like heroin or Jeremy Piven.”

The hazards of lead paint are nothing new: 20 years ago, “Sesame Street” even produced a song to raise awareness around the issues.

While lead abatement programs are expensive, they’ve also been shown to be cost-effective, leading to lower crime rates, decreased medical spending and greater economic activity. Though, as Oliver said, “the cost savings still do rank a distant third on my list of reasons not to poison children.” (The top two being 1] it’s poison and 2] they’re children.)

Nevertheless -- and this may come as a shock to you -- Congress has failed to adequately fund HUD’s lead abatement program. Some members of Congress even advocated reducing funding for the program, despite publicly expressing horror over the situation in Flint.

“I thought poisoned children was something we were justifiably outraged by,” Oliver said. “This problem was obvious enough 20 years ago for ‘Sesame Street’ to feel the need to address it. And since we very much still have this problem, it’s clearly time to address it again.”

So with that, Oliver paid a visit to “Sesame Street” where Elmo, Rosita and Oscar helped him raise awareness over the issue. Who knew advocacy could be so darn adorable?

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