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Outreach Project Finds Extensive Lead Hazards in Rochester Neighborhoods

Friday, July 29, 2005

An intensive field inspection of two inner-city Rochester neighborhoods has revealed that up to 88 percent of homes may have some form of exterior lead paint hazards.

“The extent of hazards we found in this survey was stunning,” said Karyn Herman, a program director with the neighborhood organization Action for a Better Community, at a meeting held for property owners in these neighborhoods on July 27. “The pervasive nature of this problem in city neighborhoods and the consequences for the health of our children is tragic because it is avoidable.  Lead poisoning is preventable, but its health effects are irreversible.”

The inspections, jointly conducted by Action for a Better Community and the University of Rochester Medical Center, represent the most ambitious outreach venture undertaken under the “Get the Lead Out” project.  Sixteen community interns and staff from the University of Rochester’s Environmental Health Sciences Center conducted education, visual assessments, and resident surveys over a two-week period in July. They inspected 438 homes in the Jay and Orchard Street  and Edgerton neighborhoods of Rochester for exterior deteriorated paint. Homeowners, landlords, and tenants were notified in advance of the inspection visits and were provided with information about lead paint hazards.

The outreach teams documented deteriorated paint in 385 homes. Because all of these houses were built before 1978, any deteriorated paint may be a potential lead hazard. In addition to identifying hazards, the survey also revealed that 82 percent of parents had tested their children for lead poisoning. 

“One of the bright spots of this survey is the fact that a very high percentage of parents reported their children were tested for lead poisoning,” said Katrina Korfmacher, Ph.D, community outreach coordinator with the Medical Center’s Department of Environmental Medicine. “This is telling in that it demonstrates that parents and physicians are doing what they can to find children affected by lead. Unfortunately, most of these parents are renters who cannot fix lead hazards in their housing. Property owners need to understand the hazards of lead, have an incentive to address the hazards, and have resources available to help.”

More than 800 Monroe county children are lead poisoned each year. Lead poisoning is most serious for children six years and younger, potentially damaging the child’s central nervous system, kidneys and reproductive systems. Even low levels of lead are harmful and are associated with decreased intelligence, impaired neurobehavioral development, decreased growth and impaired hearing. The major source of lead exposure among U.S. children is lead-based paint and lead-contaminated dust found in housing built before 1978.  Eighty-seven percent of Rochester’s housing was constructed prior to 1950.

“This ambitious effort to document and inform property owners about the extent of potential health hazards in Rochester housing reveals that many Rochester families are living in unhealthy conditions,” said Rebecca Morley, Executive Director of the National Center for Healthy Housing in Columbia, Maryland. “By pinpointing the properties with hazards and documenting the extent of the problem in the city, the partners are providing a vehicle for resources and attention to this underappreciated problem.”

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Mark Michaud

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