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Green Party's Howie Hawkins Makes Youth Lead Poisoning a Campaign Issue in Governor's Race

Cameron Tirado/WAER News

Green Party Candidate for Governor Howie Hawkins says Syracuse is poisoning its children, and he has a plan to stop it.  A 2016 study by The Journal of Pediatrics found that, in terms of percentage, Syracuse’s youth had the highest lead levels in the nation between 2009 and 2015.   

Hawkins is making it a campaign issue.

“Forty percent of Syracuse children have lead levels above the federal standard of five micrograms per deciliter in their blood tests,” Hawkins said. “Forty percent of our children are being impacted by lead which causes intellectual flow development, problems with motor skills, memory, and leads to behavioral problems.”

Hawkins says the problem is not limited to Central New York. Child lead blood levels in Rochester and New York City have doubled Flint Michigan’s 2014 numbers. If elected, his first priority would be to strengthen the state’s lead testing standard by adopting the lower federal threshold, which is half as high as New York State’s.

“Secondly, no units should be rented without lead-safe certification,”  Hawkins said. “Renting units where children can be poisoned is really just a crime. What that will do, because it’s going to be a big cost to abate this lead, but this will get landlords to invest money as well.”

His plan also calls for annually testing drinking water in schools, adopting federal regulations to improve lead reduction, and securing state funds for lead inspections.  Hawkins says this is just as big of a health concern as other popular local issues, like algae blooms in Skaneateles Lake or opioid addiction.

“Children can’t defend themselves,” Hawkins said. “If you hear there is an algae blooming, you can avoid water. Opioid addiction is definitely a problem.  But lead has been kicked to the back of the line for too long. It’s affecting their lives. These are little kids. They are not responsible for these things yet. So, to me, that’s got to be a top priority.”

Hawkins believes mostly state and federal funds should cover the costs of lead abatement so cities like Syracuse, which are tight on money, can fix the problem. He has no cost estimate on this project, but he says there is no estimate on the price of a child’s health.  Hawkins is making a bid to unseat Governor Cuomo along with Democrat Cynthia Nixon, Republican Marc Molinaro, Libertarian Gary Sharpe, and independent candidate Stephanie Miner.

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