I ran across this article whilst searching my feeds for something completely different. Rochester passed legislation last year requiring the issuing of a Certificate of Occupancy for residential property be contingent upon that property’s passing a lead test. Moreover, we passed a number of other rules that make the cleanup of lead paint in our city much, much more feasible.
But things are not so rosy elsewhere in New York State. We passed our legislation specifically because the state law is woefully inadequate. How inadequate do they have to be in order to qualify for my stamp of “woefully?” Probably a few steps short of where NYS is, as you can read from this passage:
In New York state, a dwelling’s lead levels must be checked only after a doctor diagnoses a child with lead poisoning.
“In most of the state of New York, including Utica in my view, it’s a very barbaric method of public health,” said Matthew Chachere, who represents the New York City Coalition to End Lead Poisoning. “You are using children as biological Geiger counters to look for lead. The effects are permanent brain damage. It’s absurd to do things this way.”
Wow. So you first have to poison a kid, then we’ll try to do something about it. This just in: the canary in the coalmine is demanding the new Harry Potter book. . .
Let’s be clear, when the above-quoted activist says “permanent brain damage,” he doesn’t just mean that severely poisoned kids will have severe mental problems, though that is true. The fact is that test after test has proven that even minor intoxication cases can cause learning disabilities and other mental problems. To quote my research for another article of yore:
Lead-based paint contributes to mental disorder, educational handicaps and a host of other mental and physical ailments across the country, particularly when children are exposed to high levels of lead under the age of six. The effects of even relatively minor doses of lead over time are still being calculated by experts even now. According to the GEIS document on Rochester’s lead abatement efforts, the Monroe County Department of Public Health tested 13,000 children and found that 8.9% – not quite one in ten – children tested had blood lead levels at or above 10 micrograms per deciliter, which is the level at which the Centers for Disease Control has positively identified harmful effects.
Lead paint was made illegal to use in homes by the federal government in 1978, but since 95% of homes in Rochester were built before 1980, they are assumed to all contain lead paint except where the problem has been dealt with. The battle to remove lead from children’s homes has been joined in Rochester for about ten years, and the results are starting to come in. In short, those kids born after lead abatement laws were passed in 1996 have seemed to perform better than those born earlier.
Any number of reasons could account for this rise in test scores, but certainly, removing lead from the homes of kids is helping. As we move forward and kids born in the past year start making their way through school, I suspect we will see this trend continue.
But there needs to be more done on the state level to address this issue. Expecting everyone to sit on their hands until after the damage is done is irresponsible and ghoulish. This is doubly true for the rural poor communities, where both the parents and the school systems are ill-equipped to either deal with the child’s issues or take any real action to address the underlying issues.
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