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Common Council looks to buy lead-testing kits

Concerns over a high rate of lead poisoning among Buffalo children is prompting the Common Council to buy testing kits to distribute to residents.

The Council on Monday directed its staff to research the cost of a bulk purchase of kits to be used to test lead levels in paint. The number of kits to be purchased has yet to be determined, but Council President Darius G. Pridgen estimated the Council will be able to purchase at least 10,000 information pamphlets to distribute to residents.

The Council has drafted a lead-poisoning prevention flyer to be distributed throughout the city.

The Council action comes after Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., last week released data showing children in Western New York – ages 5 and under – suffer from the highest rate of lead poisoning in upstate New York. The data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed Erie County with a 14 percent rate of lead poisoning – compared with 8.6 percent in Monroe County, which includes Rochester; and 9.1 percent in Onondaga County, which includes Syracuse.

Much of the high lead poisoning, officials said, can be traced to Buffalo’s housing stock. The city has the highest percentage of homes built before World War II of any large city in the nation. Lead-based paint was a feature of homes built before 1978, and lead paint chips and dust continue to present hazards for young children who inadvertently put these particles into their mouths. Lead poisoning can lead to neurological damage and behavioral disorders.

Pridgen on Monday said the Council last year set aside $65,000 for a lead paint abatement program, but the project ran into some hurdles, so the money is still available. The Council plans to use that money to purchase the lead-testing kits and brochures, he said.

Pridgen, who is also pastor at True Bethel Baptist Church, said his church purchased 100 disposable, $10 lead paint testing kits from local Home Depot stores, and on Sunday distributed them to 100 congregants. The tests are easy to use, and provide instant results, he said.

In response to the data released by Schumer, New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman earmarked $346,825 in lawsuit settlement money toward local lead prevention and remediation efforts.

That money likely will help resolve lead exposure issues in roughly 40 to 50 homes, said Cara Matteliano, vice president for community impact with the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo. The foundation’s Green and Healthy Homes Initiative has helped hundreds of homeowners with a variety of home repair and lead abatement services, Matteliano has said.

The Erie County Health Department has primary responsibility for handling lead issues in the city and county. Matteliano said the region needs a more comprehensive strategy and buy-in from the city, county, housing and law enforcement agencies to effectively combat lead poisoning in the community.