Rochester Lead Effort a Model for Other Upstate Communities

February 04, 2008

The diverse grassroots partnership that was the catalyst for Rochester’s historic lead law will now serve as a model for other upstate New York communities grappling with high rates of lead poisoning.              

A $139,771 grant from the New York State Health Foundation (NYSHealth) will enable staff from the University of Rochester Environmental Health Sciences Center (EHSC) to work with non-profit organizations in Auburn/Cayuga County, Elmira/Chemung County and Oneida County to help build lead poisoning prevention coalitions in these communities that will focus on planning, community education, and primary prevention. 

“The goal is to help coalitions in these cities to achieve the critical mass and focus necessary to secure ongoing funding and sustainability,” said Katrina Korfmacher, Ph.D., Community Outreach Coordinator for the EHSC. “Ultimately, we want to create a statewide model of how communities can come together to effectively address their environmental health problems with strategies that are tailored to their individual community.”

The model for these efforts will be the Rochester Coalition to Prevent Lead Poisoning (CPLP).  The CPLP – which is also a participant in the project – is an education and advocacy organization composed of diverse individuals and community organizations that has worked since to reduce the city’s high rates of childhood lead poisoning.  The CPLP will provide technical assistance and advice to community groups in each of the three counties to develop their local capacity in lead poisoning prevention.

Through public education and outreach, research, and working with state and local government, the coalition was able build the community-wide consensus and momentum necessary for changes in public policy.  These efforts culminated in the passage of a historic lead ordinance by the city which went into effect in July 2006. 

A recent report by the Center for Governmental Research (CGR) indicated that, while much work remains to be done, the new law is already having a significant impact.  The report estimated that 1,400 Rochester homes had been made “lead safe” at a cost to landlords and homeowners which was lower than anticipated.  The CGR report also noted that the number of children with elevated levels of lead in their blood had decreased since the new law went into effect.

“I am thrilled that we were able to support the dissemination of this important model,” said James R. Knickman, President and CEO of the New York State Health Foundation. “Community coalitions are critical to addressing environmental health issues. Strengthening our health care infrastructure and improving the health of New Yorkers requires important investments, and NYSHealth is committed to supporting projects like this one.”

Cayuga, Chemung, and Oneida Counties all have large numbers of homes that were built before 1950, prior to the ban on lead paint, and are at high risk for lead hazards due to deterioration.  Lead poisoning – which is most commonly due to exposure to lead in paint and dust in homes – poses a tremendous health risk for children six years and younger, potentially damaging their central nervous systems, kidneys and reproductive systems. Even low levels of lead are harmful and are associated with decreased intelligence, impaired neurobehavioral development, decreased growth, and behavior problems.

The University of Rochester EHSC will work with Catholic Charities of Chemung County, Mohawk Valley Community Action Agency (Oneida County), and Cornell Cooperative Extension in Cayuga County.  Over the next year, the groups will bring together individuals and organizations committed to addressing lead poisoning in their communities and implement primary prevention projects.  The final product will be a strategic plan for preventing childhood lead poisoning in each county.

NYSHealth, whose mission is to expand health insurance coverage, increase access to high-quality health care services, and improve public and community health, was established by the State of New York with charitable funds from the privatization of Empire Blue Cross/Blue Shield.

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Mark Michaud
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