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Federal grants provide a vital boost to county’s lead abatement program

The $3.4 million in federal money that came through to fight lead poisoning in Erie County should finally allow the county’s anti-lead program, proposed in March, to get rolling. Now county legislators, after first blocking the effort, want to “add more teeth” to the proposal. Better late than never.

Lead poisoning rose to national awareness following the debacle in Flint, Mich., where lead leaching from old pipes was found to be poisoning the residents.

Flint, of course, is not the only place with lead problems. Erie County’s young people suffer a higher rate of lead poisoning than Flint’s, and one of the highest rates of childhood lead poisoning in the state. These children live in older neighborhoods, where lead paint was used extensively in homes up until the 1970s. Unabated, it becomes a problem and leads to lower IQ, learning disabilities, behavioral disorders and a host of other problems.

City, state and federal leaders, nonprofits and community groups have all worked to combat this preventable poisoning. But it takes money.

County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz proposed a $3.75 million initiative over the next five years to double the number of environmental health inspections and purchase new equipment.

The Legislature balked. Lawmakers opted for a watered-down resolution that made funding contingent on the county receiving a $3 million grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Getting federal money to fight problems such as lead poisoning can prove daunting. That’s why it is important to have top-notch federal representatives. Charles E. Schumer, New York’s senior senator, and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand announced the $3 million HUD grant. Then they upped the ante with $400,000 in additional Healthy Homes funding.

Erie County legislators are now pushing to make landlords of older one- and two-family rental properties responsible for remediation. That may be an improvement, but they shouldn’t have watered down the county executive’s proposal in the first place.

Valuable months have been lost in battling what should have been perceived as an emergency. Now, with the dollars in place, the effort can get underway.