Governor Asked to Sign Lead Bill

October 14, 2008 at 8:35 am Leave a comment

There is a guest essay in today’s Democrat & Chronicle by Peter Carpino (United Way or Greater Rochester) and Brian Hetherington (Empire Justice Center) that calls upon Gov. Paterson to sign into law legislation that would, among other things, provide tax credits for homeowners for lead abatement.

Gov. Paterson: Sign lead bill; save kids from brain damage

Peter C. Carpino and Bryan Hetherington

Gov. David Paterson deserves much credit for responding quickly and forcefully to the financial crisis. However, there are other critical issues that he must address using that same firm leadership.

In the next few days, Paterson must decide whether to sign into law the Childhood Lead Poisoning Primary Prevention and Safe Housing Act of 2008. The act would identify the top 30 high-risk areas in the state, require prevention plans for those communities, increase the amount of information available to the public and offer tax credits for homeowners for lead hazard reduction.

It has taken years to get this legislation passed in both houses. The research is clear that signing the bill would mean many more New York children would succeed in school and many fewer would end up in jail. Costs for health care, criminal justice and special education would decrease an estimated $25 million a year, and tax revenues would rise.

Gov. Paterson has long been an advocate for programs to reduce lead poisoning, but in the past, New York state failed to do anything to actually look for hazards in buildings until a child was already poisoned by lead. By then the damage from lead poisoning is permanent.

Maybe there would have been some excuse for failing to act if it had been necessary to inspect all 7 million housing units in New York state. But by 1998, the state Health Department had determined that a very limited number of “high-risk” neighborhoods account for a huge proportion of the children who are damaged by lead. According to 2005 data recently released by the state, slightly more than 1 percent of the ZIP codes in the state account for nearly 40 percent of the new incidences of childhood lead poisoning cases outside of New York City.

It’s not as if we don’t know how to address this problem. This legislation would require communities to work together to come up with the most suitable local methods to find the housing likely to contain lead-paint hazards – as we did in Rochester several years ago. Since 2006, the city of Rochester, in cooperation with Monroe County, has performed more than 28,000 housing inspections, and the number of children poisoned has been cut by two-thirds over the last five years. So we know that with prudent planning, we can inspect for lead-paint hazards and remove them economically and effectively. That’s probably why Mayor Robert Duffy, County Executive Maggie Brooks and District Attorney Mike Green have each urged Paterson to sign this legislation.

The numbers of children poisoned by lead paint in New York state are the highest in the nation. Other states, such as Massachusetts, have long ago taken preventive measures. Boston now reports fewer new cases of children poisoned by lead each year than the cities of Buffalo and Rochester, and even fewer cases than Utica, with a population of less than 60,000. Since 1998, more than 250,000 children in New York state have been damaged by lead and still suffer the consequences. The nearly 3,000 new cases in upstate New York identified by the state as having been poisoned by lead in 2005 reflect only a fraction of the likely number of cases. Only 45 percent to 50 percent of children in the state are tested for lead poisoning at ages 1 and 2.

Lead poisoning can affect any child regardless of race. Still, African-American and Latino children are far more likely to live in the high-risk areas. In fact, more than 90 percent of the African-American children younger than age 5 in the city of Buffalo lived in one of the 36 high-risk ZIP codes identified by the state in 2001. And, for all of upstate New York, one in three African-American children younger than 5 lived in a high-risk area.

In these difficult times, it takes strong leadership to put public resources where they will do the most good. We have an opportunity to protect our children from lead poisoning, and we trust the governor will act to do so by signing this bill.

Carpino is president, United Way of Greater Rochester; Hetherington is chief counsel, Empire Justice Center.

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Entry filed under: Environmental Health, In the News.

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