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Mayoral candidates spar over who can get the lead out

The fight to get the lead out of Buffalo homes is on again -- this time amid the fight to also see who will be in charge of the effort as mayor for the next four years.

Candidate and city Comptroller Mark J. F. Schroeder revived the issue this week by laying out a plan to change the way the city tests for lead. If elected, he would hire certified lead inspectors and/or get the city’s building inspectors trained and certified as lead inspectors in order to supplement the testing that Erie County currently does in homes.

Schroeder said he would seek federal and state grants to pay for the training and certification, and look into using savings generated by efficiencies in various departments, such as by reducing overtime costs.

“First step is to get training. If we need to hire more inspectors, it’s certainly an option,” Schroeder said.

But the administration of Mayor Byron W. Brown says there are two problems with Schroeder's plan: It would require state legislation, and it would duplicate services already provided by Erie County.

The city currently is working with the county on lead abatement.  Since the spring, when Buffalo inspectors notice chipping paint or other indications of possible lead exposure, they have been writing citations which are forwarded to the county, which then tests the property.

The city also has been contracting with an environmental services company to do lead assessments on individual properties after getting referrals from the county or from individuals who request testing. Since last year, there have been 91 such assessments, administration officials said.

But Schroeder sees no problems in "supplementing what the county already does."

"The City of Rochester can inspect homes and doesn’t rely totally on (Monroe) county,” he said.

For its part, the county Health Department doesn't want to get in the middle of the fight, issuing a statement saying that while it  "does not comment on issues related to political campaigns," it is always open to new collaborations to fight lead poisoning.

The rhetorical war comes as kids under 5 in Buffalo, because of the city's old housing stock, suffer from some of the highest rates of lead poisoning in upstate New York.  Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data show Erie County with a 14 percent rate of lead poisoning, compared with 8.6 percent in Monroe County. And the Erie County ZIP codes with the highest levels of lead are predominantly in Buffalo: 14201, 14207, 14208, 14209, 14210, 14211, 14212, 14213 and 14215.

Young children often put lead paint chips and dust particles in their  mouths, leading to lead poisoning that can cause neurological damage and behavioral disorders. Lead affects the developing brain in children and is associated with lower IQ and poor social performance, prompting governments to undertake widespread abatement programs.

Rochester’s Lead-Based Paint Poisoning Prevention Ordinance was implemented in 2006, and requires inspections for lead paint hazards as an extension of the city’s other inspection processes, such as when issuing certificates of occupancy.

Schroeder wants Buffalo to be similarly aggressive.

“According to the numbers, lead poisoning is obviously a problem in (Buffalo),  and it’s time the city took” more responsibility, Schroeder said.  “It’s time to fix it rather than waiting for the county to do it.”

As mayor, he also would:

  • Test every rental unit for lead paint - inside and out - and  work on legislation to enable the inspections;
  • Launch a public relations campaign to raise awareness about lead poisoning by using the city’s cable access channels, posting on the city’s web site, using social media, going to community meetings and going door-to-door to get the word out; and
  • Work with the Buffalo Public Schools to “eradicate any risk of lead from our schools.”

“ You can’t just put a flyer in a water bill and call it a day,” said Schroeder, referring to one of the initiatives of the Brown administration.

But the city says it already  has done some of what Schroeder proposes. The Brown administration has posted information on the city’s website and on social media, distributed fliers door-to-door and placed fliers in user fee bills. The city also has coordinated with Buffalo Public Schools to disseminate information.

The city also established a “Lead Line” in July 2016 for residents to call 311 to report suspected lead hazards, and has received 55 calls so far.

In April 2016, the Common Council also purchased thousands of lead testing kits to distribute to residents.

“We did the testing kits,” said Council President Darius G. Pridgen. “The city provided them to residents. Some Council members took it to their districts and community centers, and people requested them.”

"But any efforts to reduce lead poisoning and exposure is great," he said.




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