Leaders identifying lead poisoning and exposure as a top public health issue

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Every year, thousands of young children in Western New York become sick from lead poisoning.

“They’re calling it ground zero for lead,” said Assemblyman Sean Ryan, a democratic state legislator.

The most common cause comes ingesting lead-based paint from housing units.

“Unfortunately, Buffalo and Erie County have the distinction of having older housing stock that is poorly maintained,” said the assembly member.

Many of the homes are on the East and West sides of the city.

“It’s not only a public health,” said Sam Magavern from the Partnership for the Public Good.”It is about what is best for the whole community and justice and fairness and making sure our most vulnerable residents aren’t the ones impacted.”

The democratic lawmaker is launching legislation looking at lead exposure and poisoning across the state. The bill includes several major changes including ceasing sales for jewelry with high lead levels, daycares to test water sources for lead contamination, and insurance companies to be hold homeowners liable for lead exposure.

The most notable is the legislator’s push for a statewide shift to lower the exposure level requirements for when the state can step in to provide services. Right now, that comes when a child’s lead test comes back with a level at or above 10 micrograms per deciliter. Under the new legislation, that would be lowered to 5mg/dl.

“There is no safe level of lead exposure,” said Assemblyman Ryan.

According to health statistics, children living in Buffalo are testing positive for lead poisoning at a rate that’s triple the state average. Around 40% of those tested have positive results which is eight times greater than the results in Flint, Michigan which has been considered a national crisis as the water supply is severely contaminated for many.

A positive test and exposure to lead can have serious health impacts including lowered IQ and behavioral issues which, according to representatives at Women’s and Children, in turn increases the likelihood of dropping out school, working a low-wage job, or winding up in the criminal justice system.

The CDC estimates costs could add up to $5,600 for medical and special education care for children suffering from serious lead poisoning.

The local leaders say ignoring this issue puts many at risk and holds back children from being able to succeed.

“Lead poisoning is an insidious disease,” said Mark Poloncarz, the Erie County Legislator. “It can destroy a child’s future before they even had an opportunity to get going in their life.”

A similar bill has been proposed in the State Senate. The assemblyman feels confident it should pass.



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