Childhood lead poisoning continues to be a major public health problem, especially in the inner cities of Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse. Rural and suburban children are also at risk, because of the age of the housing in which they live. Housing built before 1978 often contains deteriorating lead-based paint on window sills, and other painted wood trim. Flaking and chipping paint turns into lead dust that children get onto their fingers and hands. They transfer the dust into their bodies by simple hand-to-mouth contact. Children under the age of three are at greatest risk but children are susceptible to lead poisoning up to about age seven.
Legislation aimed at making property owners more accountable for ridding their properties of lead hazards continues to be bogged down in Albany. All bills introduced in 2005 were sent to committees where no action is taken. However, the City of Rochester has enacted new legislation designed to put it on an ambitious course to eradicate lead paint hazards by the year 2010.
In Rochester, the law passed by the City Council includes a presumption that all buildings constructed before 1978 contain lead-based paint. The law calls for an initial investigation for all units designated in a high-risk area, even where a property passes a visual inspection with no obvious signs of chipping or peeling paint. The high risk area includes about 24,000 of the city’s 53,000 rental units. The new law in Rochester places an affirmative duty on landlords to maintain their units free of lead-based paint hazards.
In Rochester, government leaders have finally recognized that too many children in Western New York continue to be at risk for lead poisoning. This is an entirely preventable public health problem. The public needs community resources, tougher laws, and money to be directed toward the eradication of lead-based paint hazards.
Higher childhood blood lead levels are associated with lower household income and older, poorly-maintained rental housing. The children of our minority populations are disproportionately impacted by this problem. Lead-based paint in rental housing is the major remaining source of lead exposure and is responsible for most cases of childhood lead poisoning today. 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 behavioral problems.
- A tiny amount of lead – concentrated in just one chip of paint – can result in serious poisoning and 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.
- Childhood lead poisoning causes enormous societal costs, including medical costs and special education costs.