Get The Lead Out
Alarm bells across the state began ringing yesterday over indications that Governor Patterson may veto the most comprehensive lead poisoning prevention legislation in state history. I got the news yesterday morning from my friend Ralph Spezio. â€śWeâ€™re in a crisis situation,â€ť said Ralphâ€”surprising words coming from this level-headed retired school principal with a decades-long history of effective community action. At first, I thought he was talking about the Wall Street meltdown, but what he told me really made my blood run cold. I was shocked, yet sure enough, there it was in my morning newspaper.
My mind was boggled at this, as this legislation â€” a long overdue protection for the children and future of New Yorkâ€”had finally advanced through the state legislature this year after a monumental seven-year effort on the part of advocates across the state, such as the Coalition to Prevent Lead Poisoning. In fact, as Ralph told me yesterday, during those seven years, advocates from across the state have been keeping up the pressure by visiting Albany monthly. Monthly? â€śMonthly,â€ť said Ralph.
Why are advocates like Ralph so deeply committed to this issue? They have seen firsthand the debilitating results of lead poisoning on urban neighborhoods, such as the one where Ralph himself was born and raised, and later became principal of the neighborhood elementary school. As a boy, he remembers climbing over the back fence and watching construction of the interstate highway which sliced through the neighborhood, helping spawn a downward cycle of disinvestment and blight shared by many other urban neighborhoods across New York in the postwar period. So after returning to become principal of the neighborhood elementary school, Ralph saw perhaps more clearly than anyone the effects of the downward spiral of disinvestment and blight.
He especially took note of the behavioral issues displayed by many of the students, and noted the parallel with the dilapidated condition of much of the neighborhood housing. When the county health department discovered that 40% of children tested showed toxic levels of lead, he knew he had to act. Ralph is now one of the most knowledgeable in the state on the effects of lead poisoning, calling it â€śThe Invisible Monster.â€ť
As the Buffalo News editorial page stated : Evidence that early lead poisoning causes brain damage is overwhelming. That damage can affect everything from decision-making to impulse control. A recent study in the Cincinnati area showed that children who have been exposed to lead paint are much more likely to be arrested once they hit age 18. The more lead exposure during childhood, the greater the likelihood of arrest, sometimes for crimes of violence.
The costs to society are staggering and tragic.
Yet the efforts of Ralph and others showed definitely that it is possible for all homes to be made lead-safe for kids. This work was the basis for model legislation in Rochester mandating lead-safe work practices and lead testing in at-risk neighborhoods. But there was the question of funding: lead problems appear predominantly in neighborhoods where the houses are improperly maintainedâ€”often blighted areas unlikely to economically support the work necessary (often by landlords) to make homes lead safe. One key to the solution would be to get tax credits passed at the state level, so they went to work. Advocates and legislators from the Rochester area and western New York have been in the vanguard. And at long last, after seven years of grueling effort, the bill is now on Governor Pattersonâ€™s desk.
This legislation will have, at most, a modest impact on the state budgetâ€”estimated at less than $15 Million. Yet the long-term impact this will have on our children and our future is immeasurable and invaluable. When it comes to preventing lead damage, it is simply impossible to overestimate the benefits to all of us.
Finally, The Invisible Monster must be slain. This legislation will strike a mortal blow. The time is right. This must be done. Governor Patterson, itâ€™s not about the budget, itâ€™s about the children. For the children of today and tomorrow, take up your penâ€”mightier than the swordâ€”and strike the blow by signing this legislation.
The â€śChildhood Lead Poisoning Primary Prevention and Safe Housing Actâ€ť (Assembly A.6399, Senate S.6350)
Buffalo News editorial
Rochester Democrat and Chronicle article
Rochester Democrat and Chronicle news
Syracuse Post-Standard editorial
Albany Times-Union editorial
What can you do?
Contact Governor Patterson and ask him to sign the â€śChildhood Lead Poisoning Primary Prevention and Safe Housing Actâ€ť (Assembly A.6399, Senate S.6350):
Governor David Paterson
c/o Lisa Ullman, Assistant Counsel to the Governor
Executive Chamber, Second Floor
New York State Capitol
Albany, NY 12224
Email: Legislative.Secretary@chamber.state.ny.us Fax: (518) 474-8099
Photo credits:Buffalo ReUse (bottom)