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Get the lead out Governor vetoes toxin-removal bill, now must keep pledge of other action

If Gov. David A. Paterson is as serious as he claims to be about using existing state law to fight the threat of lead poisoning in New York's children, then it might not matter much that he vetoed a bill that would have added new tools to the effort.

And if he isn't, then having the blocked bill in place probably wouldn't have been of much help anyway.

So the people of New York must hold the governor to his promise to do all that reasonably can be done to eliminate the threat of lead poisoning. And they must hope he is correct in his argument that building on current Department of Health efforts to stop lead from old paint -- found in so many older homes and apartments -- from entering the bloodstreams of vulnerable children will do the job.

Paterson last week vetoed the Assembly's Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention and Safe Housing Act, sponsored primarily by Assemblyman David F. Gantt, D-Rochester. The statement that accompanied the veto said it pained the governor to take the action. It should have. But the governor's statement added that his estimate that over two years the bill would cost the cash-strapped state $50 million, including $15 million in tax breaks for property owners, left him no choice.

Maybe. Certainly it makes sense for any governor to want all new spending, and all new tax breaks, to be worked into the overall budget process rather than added piecemeal. And Paterson says that, on the issue of lead poisoning, he has done exactly that, doubling state spending on the issue over two years and promising to keep it a priority in his future spending plans.

The state's existing Childhood Lead Primary Prevention Program, a pilot operation that Paterson pledges to make permanent, already has the state working with city and county health departments to improve testing, screening, registries and intervention in cases where the lead levels found in the bloodstreams of children reach dangerous levels.

And it doesn't take much for lead to be a danger. The lead-based house paint that was common before the 1950s is now deteriorating, literally, into dust in the housing units where it is still found. And it is still found mostly in the homes of the poor, where the funds necessary to remove the old paint and apply new are lacking.

The documented results are ailments of the brain and limits in learning abilities for the affected children. Those are problems that, in addition to all of the human suffering, cost the state untold amounts of money in remedial education, welfare spending, health care costs and unrealized wages.

Whether Paterson's veto of the Gantt bill is a tragedy or just a momentary hesitation will depend on whether the governor comes though on his promise to use the existing regulatory structure to crack down on sources of lead poisoning, and keeps his pledge to include necessary funding in his next executive budget, due Dec. 18.

This is one issue that cannot be swept under the rug.

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