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After Years Of Work, Local Advocates See New Legislation To Prevent Lead Poisoning

Bart Everson

Numerous stakeholders have been watching closely over the past two years or so as Syracuse moved toward final adoption of a new lead paint ordinance. The measure approved Monday by Common Councilors means city code inspectors can cite the presence of lead paint as a violation. 

The ordinance was so important to the Central New York Community Foundation that it publicly advocated for its passage, a first for the non-profit.   The foundation has already committed$2 milliontoward education, outreach, and resources for landlords.  Director of Strategic Initiatives Robyn Smith says the city will start with high risk areas.

“I think that’s one thing that this legislation has done a great job in pointing out by performing the environmental impact study,” said Smith. “We’re able to really see where the neighborhoods are that are in the greatest need and focusing efforts there first.”

Syracuse modeled its legislation after Rochester’s, which has made a significant dent in lead levels among children.  Elizabeth Domachowske is program coordinator at the Central/Eastern New York Lead Poisoning Resource Center based at SUNY Upstate.

“In addition to the blood lead levels decreasing, their housing stock is better off because of it now,” said Domachowske. “We need to account for all of these hazards, and if you can’t cite for it, then you can’t know which houses are hazardous.”

With the enforcement gap closed, what’s next?  The Community Foundation’s Robyn Smith says they’ve given support to the Lead Free New York campaign advocating for the rights of tenants.

“Making the government aware that they should really change the policies statewide around rental registries, and what is allowable, and what is considered safe and affordable housing,” said Smith. “I think one thing that we continue to find is that housing that is affordable is not necessarily housing that is safe.”

She says there’s also a shortage of educated, qualified contractors to perform lead remediation.

“Creating a pipeline of contractors who can do this type of work to support those grants that we saw come into the city and county and some of the funds that the community foundation has provided, so that they’re doing lead safe practices when they’re doing their contracting,” said Smith.

Smith says they also continue to reach out to new mothers to make them aware of the dangers of lead paint, from how to identify it and clean it to who to contact and how to get their child tested.  Elizabeth Domachowske at the Lead Poisoning Resource Center says they still see children with blood lead levels so high they need to administer treatment to help the body rid itself of the poison.

“But it only takes it out of the soft tissue so lead can still be in the bone, and it can still come out of the bone even after the child has been treated,” said Domachowske. “So the level will usually come down, but then it will rebound back up. And this whole time that the child has lead in their body, it is impacting their body.”

Causing numerous irreversible neurological, behavioral, and physical problems that last a lifetime.  She says lead is not just a health issue. It’s also a housing and equality issue that impacts the entire community. 

Scott Willis covers politics, local government, transportation, and arts and culture for WAER. He came to Syracuse from Detroit in 2001, where he began his career in radio as an intern and freelance reporter. Scott is honored and privileged to bring the day’s news and in-depth feature reporting to WAER’s dedicated and generous listeners. You can find him on twitter @swillisWAER and email him at