Good News in Rochester Lead Abatement

The County has announced remarkable drops in lead poisoning cases among the Under 2 set in Rochester over an eleven year span.  For a city with one of the highest such totals in the entire country, that’s big, important and welcome news:

Battle Against Lead Poisoning –

(Rochester, N.Y.) – At a news conference Monday, Monroe County leaders announced an 85 percent drop in lead poisoning cases among children ages newborn to six-years-old.

However, there continues to be some acknowledged problems with the testing environment.  Specifically, the significant drop in the number of children tested at age two compared to age 1.  Also, the overall number of children tested has also dropped about 24%.

Democrat & Chronicle: Local News

The officials acknowledged, however, that the impact of those efforts on 2-year-olds isn’t clear. Though they are more mobile, more likely to put their hands in their mouths and therefore more likely to be exposed to lead, the frequency with which 2-year-olds are tested is relatively low — despite a state law that mandates testing for children at age 1 and 2.

Derrick Hazle, executive director of the Coalition to Prevent Lead Poisoning, said 8,000 children have been tested at age 1, compared with 5,000 at age 2. He said parents may be tending to other children, work or household duties and may neglect to follow their doctors’ orders to take their 2-year-olds to a lab for testing or return to the office for a test.

These are, of course, items for improvement.  The Coalition to Prevent Lead Poisoning is planning on addressing this concern with targeted ads in the hardest-hit areas of the city.  But even with these problems (no system is perfect, after all), the study represents at least a fifty percent drop in cases, once you factor in the drop in testing.  That’s great news.

And the recent lead abatement law set in place last year should go to great lengths to improving on these already promising numbers.  Despite the resistance of real estate advocacy groups in Rochester, compelling landlords to check their properties for lead problems before they rent them out is critical to combating the problem where it lives.

What makes this really critical is not so much the cases of intense lead poisoning, heartbreaking though those are.  Studies are finding that even a relatively low amount of lead in the bloodstream can cause learning disabilities in children.  It’s like lead is holding down the entire performance curve for the Rochester City School District.  It goes without saying that they’ve got enough troubles without adding this to it.  And underperforming kids are more likely to get into trouble out of sheer frustration.

Now, there are two major questions, here:

First, has the toxicity of children’s blood dropped by the same rate as the incidents of lead poisoning?  You would think so, but that might be a hasty assumption.

Secondly, what has the effect been on the district’s education rates?  Well, a kid born when the last study was done in 1996 would be eleven years old, so they’d be in fifth grade if I’ve done my math correctly (oh, Exile?).  Kids older than that are unlikely to have been affected quite to the same extent, so we’ll set those aside for now.  The Rochester City School District website has some interesting statistics that deal with exactly this group of kids, and the numbers look very promising.

So it will be interesting to see what happens in the next ten years to our graduation rates and our ongoing lead abatement battle.  But this is really, really good news for a city that is bleeding residents.  C’mon back, folks.  The walls’r fine!

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By Tommy Belknap

Owner, developer, editor of DragonFlyEye.Net, Tom Belknap is also a freelance journalist for The 585 lifestyle magazine. He lives in the Rochester area with his wife and son.

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