Local Officials Are Worried About Increased Lead Exposure in Homes Due to COVID Lockdowns

Local News

Utica, N.Y.—For almost a year, COVID-19 has forced us to remain inside our homes, to protect us and our loved ones from getting sick, but for many young residents in Oneida County, their homes are making them ill. Many people believe that the biggest exposure concern to lead is in the water, but right here in Oneida County, it’s actually the paint. While lead paint was banned in 1978 more than 80% of housing in Utica was built before.

“There’s often a misperception locally that ‘okay well this paint issue was back in the 80s or early 90s,'” Danielle Smith CEO of The HomeOwnership Center said. “And the truth is if you were still painting your house with lead paint in 1978, 1980 or early 80s that paint was still intact it didn’t start breaking down. So its a problem here and now because now your paint is spidering and it’s chipping.”

Lead can cause serious health problems, especially to young children and pregnant women, and adults with kidney problems or high blood pressure. Exposure to lead in children below the age of six can lead to damage to the brain and nervous system, slowed growth and development learning and behavior problems, speech and hearing problems, lower IQ, decreased ability to pay attention and underperformance in school. Effects from lead poisoning are permanent. 

“The point is that what happens to a child that has become lead poisoned is the trajectory of their life has suddenly been markedly blunted,” Dr. Mark Warfel explained. “So their potential won’t be reached, and to me that is just a horrible thing to consider especially when it’s something we can prevent.”

New York State has the highest levels of lead poisoning in the country, and Oneida County has the highest rate of new cases of lead poisoning in the state. Meaning a child is more likely to become lead poisoned in Oneida County than anywhere else in the country.

“One way to look at it would be to reference Flint Michigan, Flint Michigan is obviously a city in Michigan that had an issue arise with lead levels in their children and their community,” John T. Adams the Green and Healthy Homes Initiative Outcome Broker at Cornell Cooperative Extension Oneida County said. “At the height of their crisis 5 % of children under the age of six were testing at five micrograms per deciliter of blood or higher here in Utica in our zip code 13501 our number of children who are testing at five micrograms or higher is more like 35%, so in 13501 zip code Utica New York every day of every month and every year we have a problem at least statistically speaking that is 7x worse than what Flint Michigan was.”

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