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$2 Million To Fight Lead Paint In County

Jan 14, 2003 | Rochester Democrat Chronicle Monroe County’s efforts to control dangers related to lead-based paint will get a big boost with a $2 million federal grant.

The grant, expected to be formally accepted by the Monroe County Legislature today, will help the county better address existing lead paint problems and take steps toward preventing elevated lead levels in children.

“We will substantially increase the safety of housing in Rochester,” said county Health Director Andrew Doniger.

Lead from paint can lower children’s IQs, result in memory loss, cause behavioral problems and, at high levels, damage organs.

The grant will be spent over 2 ø years. Previously, the county received a federal grant of $1.7 million that resulted in lead paint remediation for 72 housing units.

The $2 million will be top of the $660,000 in the 2003 county budget for lead paint control, Doniger said.

The grant will help diminish the danger of lead paint poisoning in 420 houses and apartments in the city.

Funds from the grant will also be used to train landlords, house painters and remodelers in lead-safe work practices. And the grant will make 325 cleaning kits available to the public along with 35 special vacuum cleaners for property owners to borrow for lead-safe dust control.

The county will spend $60,548 to publicize the dangers of lead poisoning.

With the grant, county health officials will increase the staff assigned to lead paint prevention and control by three full-time employees and one part-time worker. The staff, which had 15 full-time workers a year ago, was down to 12 full-time employees in the fall.

A Center for Governmental Research study done for the county last year found that 1,319 of the 14,819 children younger than 6 screened in 2000 had blood levels at or above 10 micrograms per deciliter the level considered dangerous. The number of children who tested at dangerous levels in 2001 was 1,034, according to Doniger.

Advocates welcomed the county’s initiative and its greater emphasis on prevention.

“This will get the public involved and educate landlords to provide lead-safe housing,” said Bryan Hetherington, co-chairman of the Rochester Lead Free Coalition, a broad-based advocacy group.

But coalition members said the county and the community need to do more since children can suffer permanent damage from elevated lead levels.

“It’s only a beginning,” said Dr. Richard Kennedy.

There has been a ban on household lead paint since 1978, but some Rochester neighborhoods have many old housing units that put children at risk of elevated lead levels. The Center for Governmental Research study found a ring of neighborhoods along the northern and western edge of the Inner Loop that had pockets where as many as 39 percent of screened children over an eight-year period were found to have elevated blood lead levels.

The county, Kennedy noted, doesn’t conduct home inspections to assess what’s needed for corrective action unless a child has lead levels that exceed 20 micrograms per deciliter.

Doniger said that conducting home inspections when the level is below 20 micrograms per deciliter is a possibility in the future but given the county resources available won’t happen right away.

Ralph Spezio, the other co-chairman of the Lead Free Coalition and former principal of School 17 in western Rochester, emphasized the importance of the county not waiting for levels to reach 20 micrograms before doing home inspections.

“When we looked at children who had learning and behavioral problems, just about all of them had one thing in common -- high lead levels,” Spezio said about his experiences as a school principal.

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