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Despite progress making homes safer, lead remains a hazard for many children

No child should have to suffer the effects of exposure to lead.

A recent Buffalo News story detailing how a young boy living in dangerous conditions is now having learning difficulties demonstrates a failure of a system that should have protected him.

Aaron King Jr. is the innocent face of something that should not have happened. Not in 2014, decades after Americans became aware of the dangers of lead. Yet he and his father are living in an apartment in the City of Buffalo that contains so much lead paint that the youngster is showing a level of lead high enough to require aggressive intervention.

People in their situation don’t have the financial ability to pack up and move after plopping down a large deposit on a new place. Or getting a mortgage for a newer, safer home. They have to deal with their situation. Their story, told by News reporter Melinda Miller, portrays a father caring for his son in a home where the health hazards start in the walls and woodwork and expand outward to include a hole in the floor and various other deficiencies.

As Miller wrote, it’s been more than three decades since the federal government banned the commercial sale of lead paint. And nearly 20 years since lead, a toxic metal, was removed from gasoline. Children are especially vulnerable to lead and should never be exposed. Yet, that exposure is still happening, and at a certain level can cause permanent damage. This preventable tragedy has to end.

The Erie County Health Department appears to be making headway. Armed with a $3 million federal grant to assess local homes for lead contamination and help the children living in those homes, county health has been trying to attack the problem at its core.

The department has targeted 5,600 houses in the neighborhoods with the highest concentration of lead poisoning. Officials confirmed 275 such cases in children in 2013. That amounts to progress, since it is a 50 percent decrease from 2002. But it’s still far too many cases.

Erie County has a new “Wipe Out Lead” campaign that seeks to identify and mitigate the lead threat in nearly 200 houses and also educate parents about the danger. The department has been aggressive about trying to eradicate a problem that shouldn’t even exist. Through its educational and awareness campaign, which also involves a number of community partners, the county has taken up the mantle of safer homes.

But this really should be the concern of the entire community. Let’s not allow these children to start behind the developmental eight-ball because of dangerous, and unnecessary, exposure to lead.