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Child Lead Contamination
For immediate release: July 18, 2018
Hawkins Calls for State Action on Child Lead Poisoning
(Syracuse) Howie Hawkins, the Green Party candidate for Governor, today called for statewide action to address the exposure of children to lead contamination.
Speaking in front of the Westside Academy at Blodgett in a Syracuse neighborhood with high levels of child lead poisoning, Hawkins called for state to adopt the more stringent federal safety standard (5 micrograms versus 10) for lead levels in blood tests; enact a statewide law that rental units must have lead-safe certification before renting; called for the state to adopt federal standards that would improve lead abatement practices; and require annual testing for lead in drinking water in schools (with remediation if needed). Hawkins said all levels of government needed to step up their enforcement and implementation of existing rules and programs related to lead poisoning.
Syracuse is the child lead poisoning capital of the nation. 40% of Syracuse children had blood lead levels between 5 and 10 micrograms per deciliter, while 16% had levels exceeding 10 micrograms per deciliter.
"It is inexcusable for Syracuse to have the nation’s highest child lead poisoning 46 years after the Surgeon General’s 1971 urgent recommendation to prevent and treat lead poisoning in children. Safe housing is a right. It's a crime to rent properties that poison children,” said Hawkins who lives in Syracuse.
Hawkins said cities need state and federal help to fund lead inspections and abatement in major portions of their existing housing stock. Lead abatement costs from $10,000 to $30,000 per unit. Federal FY 2019 funding for lead programs did increase by $30 million to $260 million, but it will still only assist 15,600 units, including only 1,500 public housing units. NYCHA alone has 130,000 units that need inspection and probably abatement. A 1995 EPA survey found that 64 million private housing units, 83% of all private units, had lead contamination.
“Lead abatement is costly. But lead in our children hurts their academic performance, memory, and motor skills. It increases their likelihood of school suspensions and then incarceration in the correctional system. If we don’t pay for lead abatement upfront, we pay even more on the back end,” Hawkins said.
Since 2012, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has advised health officials to initiate an investigation into the source of lead and remediate it when a child younger than 6 registers a blood-lead level of 5 micrograms. New York does not require an investigation until a child younger than 6 registers 10 micrograms. Sen. Rivera recently introduced Dakota’s Law, named after a 4-year-old girl living in NYCHA housing found to have 9 times the safe lead level in her blood. Dakota’s Law would require health officials statewide take action to help children younger than 18 living in public or private housing who have 5 micrograms or more.
Lead contamination is a statewide crisis. A recent report by Reuters identified 69 New York City census tracts where at least 10 percent of small children screened over an 11-year period, from 2005 to 2015, had elevated lead levels. That is twice the rate found in Flint, Michigan, infamous for its lead poisoning crisis due to recent corrosion of lead water service lines. Rochester also had elevated levels in children at twice the rate of Flint, Michigan as of 2014, as did 3,800 neighborhoods in the U.S. that were identified by the Reuters survey of blood lead levels.
Syracuse was one of the first cities in the nation to institute a lead abatement program in 1994. But after 20 years, a lead poisoning crisis remained. Under the administration of Mayor Stephanie Miner, now a gubernatorial candidate, the city lost its funding for the program in 2015 after federal officials determined the city’s lead testing procedures and quarterly reports were faulty.
In New York City, Mayor De Blasio has been under fire because his public housing officials misled federal inspectors and presented false reports to the public about its compliance with lead-paint regulations. His administration was also criticized for grossly undercounting the children with lead poisoning by using the old 10 micrograms standard instead of the new 5 micrograms standard to indicate the number of children affected. While Governor Cuomo has criticized De Blasio’s handing of the NYCHA lead problem, he has taken no initiatives to support lead abatement programs across the state.
“What are the priorities of Miner, De Blasio, and Cuomo, who all call themselves progressive? They seem more interested in protecting their real estate industry donors than little children,” Hawkins said.
Hawkins said these misplaced priorities were on display where they were standing at the Westside Academy at Blodgett. The 100-year-old school was once again denied renovation in the current round of funding by the Joint School Construction Board, even though it is the most dilapidated school in the city, with sections closed off due to roof damage and asbestos, water fountains that are unusable due to rust, a crumbling facade, and ancient boilers.
Hawkins noted that Rochester has made progress by aggressively inspecting all rental housing, including 1 and 2 family housing. Syracuse only inspected 3+ family housing until the law was changed this year. But the Syracuse code enforcement division is understaffed, far from able to inspect all units every 3 years, and its inspectors are not certified to test for lead. The city relies on Onondaga County for lead testing, which has a limited budget for it through the non-profit Green and Healthy Homes Initiative.
Rochester’s program is half local/half state funded. Rochester enacted a law in 2006 requiring code enforcement officers to look for lead paint problems during routine interior and exterior inspections of rental units. Since then the city has conducted more than 129,000 inspections and cut the number of childhood lead poisoning cases by 85 percent, although this reduction is still based on the state’s 10 microgram standard, not the federal 5 microgram standard.
Hawkins said the state should provide the funding to cities so they can replicate Rochester’s inspection program.