We suggest that Albany Lawmakers and Governor Paterson be urged not to be pennywise, but pound foolish in any further delay in approving and enacting the Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention and Safe Housing Act of 2009.   While these may be tough economic times, the future economic costs of Special Education and related therapies and/or disability payments for lead-poisoned children outweigh any justification for further delay in taking steps to prevent lead poisoning from occurring in unsafe rental housing in the first instance.

Despite the distraction of New York State’s budget crisis, some Albany lawmakers are slow to recognize that childhood lead poisoning remains a serious public health problem that needs to be addressed.  Lawmakers have once again introduced legislation denoted as the Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention and Safe Housing Act of 2009.  A similar enacted bill in 2008 was vetoed by Governor Paterson due to the looming budget crisis that is affecting New York State in the current nationwide economic recession. Unfortunately, and with a daring assumption that this legislation again passes both houses in the current fiscally-troubled year, we would expect another Governor’s veto because he will most likely view this legislation as too costly.

Here’s why:  The legislation establishes a fund to promote primary prevention and safe housing, and it authorizes a tax credit to income-qualified property owners who undertake lead hazard reduction activities.  Both of these programs would fiscally impact the State.  A key provision of the bill would also fiscally impact property owners in a down economy.  The bill summary highlights a “cornerstone” as requiring all upstate rental properties built before 1970 be certified as either “lead free”, “lead contained” or “lead stabilized”, and subsequently then be recertified.  It would force property owners to perform maintenance activities for compliance and certification within two years of passage of the law.

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The purpose of this legislation is to alter the focus of the State’s lead poisoning prevention efforts.  Lawmakers want to focus on primary prevention, because the historical focus on post-exposure secondary prevention and intervention efforts has not led to a satisfactory decline in new exposures in the targeted population group, lower income children living in rental properties in depressed urban areas.   The Legislature recognizes that in New York State about 10,000 children per year are newly identified as having an elevated blood lead level of 10 ug/dL (micrograms per deciliter) or higher.

The current bills (Assembly Bill No. A02087; and Senate Bill No.S1002) have been referred to the Health Committees of the respective legislative houses.  Readers of this newsletter are urged to contact their respective State Assembly or State Senate representative to call for passage of The Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention and Safe Housing Act of 2009.

These additional facts about the serious impact of childhood lead poisoning are widely recognized:

  • Even low levels of lead in young children can result in reduced intelligence and attention span, learning disabilities, hearing impairment and behavior problems.
  • A tiny amount of lead, concentrated in just one chip of paint, can result in serious poisoning and even irreversible developmental damage in children under the age of six.
  • Children are poisoned by simple hand-to-mouth contact with leaded dust that exists in association with degraded lead-based paint in their households.
  • Childhood lead poisoning causes enormous societal costs, including medical costs and special education costs.