Syracuse continues to fight lead poisoning during national prevention week
More than 90% of homes in Syracuse built before 1980 have lead-based paint, leading to ongoing problems in the city. In 2020, lead poisoning disproportionately impacted 12% of Black children versus 6% of white children. As National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week begins Sunday, a Central New York group is raising awareness for the lasting harm experienced by children who get lead poisoning at a young age.
Despite remediation efforts and millions in funding between the city and Onondaga County, efforts to aggressively address the problem fell behind during the pandemic, according to the program officer for strategic initiatives at the CNY Community Foundation. However, Darrell Buckingham said the organization is partnering with a coalition of local governments and other organizations as part of lead poisoning prevention week and year-round.
Buckingham said cases of high blood-lead levels are decreasing in Syracuse.
“For Black folks, it's 11.8% of lead poisoning and for our white residents, it is 6.4% and so any amount of lead poisoning is bad—these percentages are only important to us because we want to make sure that we're moving the needle at some point," he said.
He said the toxins from lead paint poisoning are proven to affect brains and nervous systems of children and can lead to low literacy rates and graduation rates.
Buckingham said testing is vital, especially among younger children.
"Those six years and under are most susceptible to lead poisoning as their brains are still developing and these are the ages where most of the testing is taking place," Buckingham said.
In September, the Onondaga County Health Department published new data concerning elevated blood lead levels based on provisional data from 2021. The data shows a map of Syracuse broken down by its streets and zip codes. Since 2017, blood lead cases along Euclid Avenue have decreased by 5%. Hiawatha and Park have flat-lined with zero cases as of 2021, and Glenwood has increased.
It is paramount, Buckingham said, that local initiatives follow the advice of the CDC when it comes to lead paint chipping on easily accessible home surfaces.
“Children are being exposed to lead through these high friction points, opening and closing of one of the door," Buckingham said. "And so we've invested well over a million dollars toward this effort. I believe about 1,040 windows have been replaced. About 136 doors have been replaced.”
Buckingham said the surfaces of the older houses in the city and the county need to be re-painted about every three years, and he questions whether happens on a regular basis. He said low home ownership and higher amounts of rental properties in Syracuse can worsens the problem.
However, Buckingham said city and county governments has secured millions in funding. If someone suspects the property they live in needs lead paint remediation, Buckingham said to call 211 CNY to inform the Lead Poisoning Prevention Program.