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Another Voice: Erie County Legislature must act to prevent lead poisoning

By Michael D. Terranova

Lead poisoning is a serious health concern in Erie County. The fact that some children living in Western New York may have unsafe levels of lead in their blood is something that cannot be ignored. Young children who ingest lead can suffer permanent neurological damage.

While the inspection and remediation of thousands of homes has taken place over the past seven years throughout the county, we can do more to address this problem. The Erie County Legislature is being asked to invest $750,000 for more lead inspection and remediation efforts as part of a proposal to protect the safety and well-being of our children and their futures.

Children under the age of 6 face the highest risk for lead poisoning due to the size of their bodies, their developing brain and the limited variety of their daily diet. High lead levels can lead to various cognitive problems, including developmental and behavior issues, such as ADHD, learning disabilities, lower IQ and the possibility of permanent brain damage.

Unlike the problems that have been reported in Flint, Mich., which are caused by lead in that community’s water supply, lead poisoning that occurs locally is mostly due to chipping lead-based paint in older homes and apartment buildings that is ingested or inhaled by young children.

Any child who lives in a structure that was built before 1978 should be tested for lead exposure. As a community, we have an obligation to care for these children by identifying health risks and reducing exposure to lead.

Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz and Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, have taken steps to address lead poisoning. Higgins has secured federal grant funding to address lead poisoning and Poloncarz recently committed $3.75 million from the county’s fund balance over the next five years to hire more lead inspectors and case management professionals and to pay for the remediation of lead in the homes of low-income county residents.

We need the Erie County Legislature to approve Poloncarz’s proposal so that money can be used along with the federal grant monies that Higgins has secured to address the problem and inspect more homes, including many houses located in Buffalo. Erie County cannot ignore these dangers. While the county’s Health Department has inspected nearly 13,000 homes since 2008, more must be done to address the dangers of lead exposure to children.

Our elected officials know about this problem. They cannot ignore the dangers of lead poisoning.

It is critical to detect lead poisoning as early as possible. The sooner this toxin is eliminated, the brighter our children’s future will be.

Michael D. Terranova, M.D., of Bowmansville, is vice chairman of the New York chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.