John Oliver, 'Sesame Street' Cast Sing About Dangers of Lead


"If lead paint is so dangerous why the f— is there still so much of it in houses where kids live?" says the 'Last Week Tonight' host.

John Oliver educated his audience on how far-reaching the problem of lead poisoning still is in the United States on Sunday's Last Week Tonight. The host even performed a song with members of the Sesame Street cast to help underscore how dangerous lead is in our country.

"We all care about lead in Flint now, which is great," said Oliver. "Unfortunately, the problem is not just in Flint. A USA Today network report found lead contamination in almost 2,000 additional water systems spanning all 50 states."

The host played a clip of an activist explaining that lead paint is often a far greater problem than lead in water. "Kids are not going to get poisoned from a water fountain at their school. They're not," said the activist. "They're going to get poisoned from paint in their homes."

"I like how that starts off sounding reassuring but ends up even more terrifying," said Oliver in response. "It's like saying, 'Look, that boa constrictor isn't going to bite you. It's not. It's just not. It's going to crush you to death with its body and then swallow you whole, because that's what it does.'"

Oliver cited HUD research showing that at least 2.1 million homes have lead paint dust hazards affecting children under six years old. The CDC reports more than half a million children between 1 and 5 have elevated lead levels in their blood. Oliver joked that that means lead is as dangerous in a home as Frozen merchandise, saying "Let 'Let It Go' go."

Oliver criticized the lack of funding appropriated to control lead hazards and pointed out that the problem was "obviously enough 20 years ago for Sesame Street to feel the need to address this." During the segment he played a clip of the Sesame Street cast warning children about lead paint two decades ago. "If lead paint is so dangerous, why the f— is there still so much of it in houses where kids live?" said Oliver.

At the end of his segment, Oliver said it was clearly time to address this problem again, and once again enlisted the help of some kid-friendly muppets on Sesame Street, which now airs on HBO.

Oliver explained to the muppets that people need to care more about lead so that they spend more money to contain it. Elmo offered up money in his piggy bank and Oscar the Grouch weighed in on how "ridiculous" it is that there's not more funding dedicated to reducing lead hazards.

"How can anyone say its too expensive, huh?" said Oscar the Grouch. "Aren't they aware that according to a study in Environmental Health Perspectives, every dollar we spend on lead paint hazard control produces returns of at least 17-to-1?"

"Wow, that is an astonishing level of economic insight coming from someone who lives in a trash can," said Oliver, prompting a defensive Oscar to explain his trash can has been rent-controlled since the 1960s.

Rosita, Elmo, Oscar and Oliver concluded the educational bit by singing a song about lead together.

"Lead is still all around us, our pipes our walls and our air," sang Oliver. "We should do more to contain it, but first we all have to care."