Senator Chuck Schumer says he’s pulling out all the stops to ensure Syracuse gets its share of federal funding to address lead hazards in older homes. He stopped by Golisano Children’s Hospital Monday to explain why. Lead paint was banned in 1978, but 90 percent of Syracuse’s housing stock was built before 1980. Half of the city’s rental properties were built before 1960.
Schumer says that means in many cases, the lead paint is still there, cracking and peeling, and being ingested by children.
"It's important to note we've made progress here, with the number of children being diagnosed. The number of children with lead poisoning is actually decreasing because both the city and the county continue to remove lead paint from homes."
Still, Onondaga County Health officials say at least 675 children were poisoned by lead last year. That number is likely much higher because it doesn’t include those who weren’t tested. Schumer says he was able to add $85 million to HUD’s office of Lead Hazard Control and Healthy Homes program for the 2018 budget, and has other $30 million ready to go for next year...if the House decides to go along. Plus, he’s urging HUD to approve the city’s joint $4.1 million application with the county for lead remediation after being cut off a few years ago.
"Their program is totally up to snuff, and they should get it. Just to say Onondaga County has a prograam isn't good enough. We need both because we have such an overwhelming problem. There's problems in some of the suburbs. But the city is where much of the problem is located because we have the oldest housing stock and the most rental housing, where this often occurs."
Eleven percent of children tested in Syracuse displayed elevated levels of lead. Doctor Travis Hobart is Assistant Medical director of the Central and Eastern New York Lead Poisoning Center at SUNY Upstate. He says the damage to children’s brains is irreversible, but the cause is preventable.
"One of the frustrating things about lead poisoning is when we find out about it, it's too late. We are doing our best to test the children as pediatricians when we find the issue. It's like the canary in the coal mine, using the children as the canary to find the problem."
The private sector has stepped up to try and fill the gap in reduced and denied federal funding. The Central New York Community foundation recently announced a $2 million commitment toward ending childhood lead poisoning. Home Headquarters and Housing Visions are also doing their part.