County public health director warns of lead poisoning in the area

(Photo via Unsplash).

Coming off National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week, Cortland County officials are sounding the alarm on the damaging, sometimes lifelong effects of lead poisoning in children.

County public health director Nicole Anjeski said the county will need funds to combat lead poisoning in children. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that children with elevated blood lead levels (EBLL) may experience damage to the brain and nervous system, slowing down growth and development, and ushering in learning and behavior problems, as well as hearing and speech issues.

Anjeski provided information on the matter for legislators during Wednesday's Health and Human Services county committee meeting. The threat of lead poisoning is prevalent in upstate cities, primarily through chipping lead paint in homes and lead service lines that bring contaminated water into homes. In Cortland, much like in other parts of central New York, close to 91% of the housing stock was built before the 1980s, when the federal government outlawed lead paint.

To prevent lead poisoning for children living in the county, Cortland has been operating the Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program (CLPPP) with the help of a state grant since the 1990s. According to county data, the County Health Department has tested about 64% of the children born in 2017. A report from the department indicates that 39 out of every 1,000 children tested showed elevated blood lead levels, which required caseworkers who worked with families to help reduce EBLL.  

About 94% of the children who were found to have EBLL between 2021-2022, spent significant amounts of time in a lead-infested home, the department’s report states. Close to 60% of the homes that had lead poisoning hazards were rental properties. 

“The governor, in this year's budget did award certain communities money for (lead poisoning remediation), but unfortunately, we were not one of those communities,” Anjeski said. “There’s kind of a list where we rank for the older housing and we are lower (than other areas). But our numbers when children do get tested are higher here.”

Anjeski spoke about the complications of attempting to remediate and abate the presence of lead in homes. 

“It could be really expensive,” she said. “Sometimes it's not as simple as just repainting or covering something up. A lot of times when people remodel, they don't realize that they have lead paint and lead dust beneath all of that. So they're remodeling, not thinking anything's wrong, and then their children test with a high blood lead level.”

Proper lead remediation in New York, based on state and federal grant standards, requires municipalities to hire contractors who have lead remediation certification from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The number of contractors who are certified to remediate lead in the state is scarce, public health advocates and state officials have said in the past.

For Anjeski, the complications of childhood lead poisoning require outside help. 

“We really encourage lawmakers to fight on our behalf (for that funding),” she said.