Lead exposure numbers down; federal funding in danger

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Since 2000, the number of children in Monroe County showing elevated levels of lead in their blood has dropped substantially. That year, testing showed that 1,293 children had elevated blood-lead levels.

In 2012, 182 children tested positive for blood-lead levels above the 10 micrograms per deciliter threshold, according to data released today by the Coalition to Prevent Lead Poisoning. That's down from 222 children in 2011 and 290 children in 2010.

The trend is a success story for Rochester and Monroe County. Elected officials, public health officials, University of Rochester researchers, children's advocates, and pediatricians have worked together to approach the problem of child lead poisoning from several angles. One significant effort came from the City of Rochester, which implemented a law requiring lead inspections as part of the certificate of occupancy process for apartments.

But House Republicans could undermine that progress. They've proposed cutting funding to federal Housing and Urban Development lead hazard prevention programs. In a press release sent out yesterday, Representative Louise Slaughter said the GOP wants to cut the program to $50 million, down from $128 million in funding approved last year. The press release says the House Appropriations Committee will vote on the proposal today.

"The massive cuts being proposed by the majority threaten to undermine the progress made in Rochester and communities across the United States in lead safety," Slaughter said in the press release.

The City of Rochester has about $5.2 million in active HUD lead hazard control grants, according to data provided by Slaughter's office.

Yesterday, Coalition to Prevent Lead Poisoning co-chair Mel Callan said more needs to be done to address lead exposure among children and more children need to be tested.

"We can't rest our laurels on the successes we've had," Callan said during a press conference outside of the coalition's annual meeting, which was held Tuesday afternoon.

Local advocates as well as government officials have stepped up efforts to find and eliminate lead sources in housing, particularly rental units in older buildings. Lead paint and lead paint dust, particularly from doors, windows, and porches, are major sources of lead exposure, Callan says.

In May, City Council approved amendments to the city lead ordinances. Most of the changes were technical and spelled out standards for doing the testing. But one change will require more frequent inspections of one- and two-unit apartment buildings in high-risk city ZIP codes where lead hazards have been previously detected.

And in a press release from the coalition, Dr. Byron Kennedy, Monroe County's new public health director, said the department is adopting a lower threshold for conducting environmental investigations. The threshold will decrease from 10 micrograms per deciliter to 8 micrograms per deciliter.

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