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High levels of lead poisoning in children cry out for a many-sided plan of action

Young children in Western New York suffer a higher rate of lead poisoning than those in Flint, Mich., where state officials decided to save a little money by using river water as the city’s water supply.

An appropriate level of outrage accompanied images of child after child, some already showing the effects of lead, and anxious parents fearing the near-inevitable learning disabilities and/or behavioral disorders.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, even low levels of lead in the blood have been shown to affect IQ, the “ability to pay attention, and academic achievement. … And effects of lead exposure cannot be corrected.”

That lead poisoning is preventable is a true tragedy in Western New York, where young children suffer from the highest rate of lead poisoning in the upstate region. Some 13 percent of children ages 5 and younger who were tested in Erie, Niagara, Chautauqua and Cattaraugus counties showed evidence of lead poisoning in 2014, according to the CDC. The data, released by Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., showed Erie County with a 14 percent rate of lead poisoning, surpassing the 8.6 percent rate in Monroe County, which includes Rochester, and 9.1 percent in Onondaga County, which includes Syracuse.

Buffalo is one of the poorest cities in the nation and as such one of the most vulnerable to lead problems. It will take a tremendous effort to remove the danger to the mostly poor children residing in some older neighborhoods. Lead paint was used extensively in those homes up until the 1970s. Without abatement, children ingest lead particles from that old paint.

Schumer, D-N.Y. is proposing a new $3,000 homeowner tax credit for any property owner who abates the lead paint in a property he or she owns. The tax credit would be available to homeowners earning $110,000 a year or less.

New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman is earmarking $346,825 in lawsuit settlement money toward local lead prevention and remediation, an effort expected to assist lead abatement in roughly 40 to 50 homes.

The Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo will provide part of the attorney general’s matching grant and is seeking support to double that amount to further accelerate lead remediation. The foundation’s Green and Healthy Home Initiative has 50 partners, including the city and county, in an integrated approach to helping low-income homeowners live in healthy home environments. The initiative has addressed lead hazards for approximately 900 homes in Buffalo and of those, 400 have also received weatherization services.

BlueCross BlueShield of Western New York has been a key partner in this effort, co-funding a lot of the work, including helping the Community Foundation with the development of an award-winning educational “Wipe Out Lead” campaign. The campaign includes television, radio, billboards and door-to-door efforts. Erie County has also been involved, increasing awareness through this campaign.

Additional grant funding from the attorney general has supported reaching more than 1,600 immigrants in Buffalo to inform them of the threat to academic achievement posed by lead exposure in young children.

No child should be exposed to lead poisoning. We have no choice but to continue the difficult campaign to remove the danger.