Children: Local Laws Reduce Dangers of Lead

05/08/2013
Photo: Lead Sign

Local laws may be able to reduce lead hazards for children at home;
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A new study catalogues community-based efforts to develop strategies and policies that – by targeting high risk housing – may hold the key to reducing lead hazards in children's homes.

"Lead poisoning has long been characterized as a health problem with a housing solution," said Katrina Korfmacher, director of the Community Outreach and Engagement Core of the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) Environmental Health Sciences Center. "It is, therefore, critical that local communities – where the ability to regulate private housing often resides – understand the unique role that they can play in reducing exposure."

The majority of lead poisoning occurs by ingesting lead contained in dust, paint, and soil in and around homes built prior to the ban on lead paint in 1978. Children with elevated blood lead levels are more likely to reside in low income urban communities; studies have shown that while an estimated 19 percent of homes nationwide contain lead hazards, this number rises to 35 percent in homes of individuals below the federal poverty line. In Rochester, more than 86 percent of the housing stock was built prior to the federal ban on lead paint.

"Lead safety is largely a function of maintenance – intact leaded paint is typically not hazardous unless it is disturbed and released into the environment," said Michael Hanley from the Empire Justice Center. "Consequently, local lead abatement efforts recognize that lead hazards are related to how owners maintain houses that contain lead paint."

Medical research shows that lead exposure has significant health, learning, and behavioral effects, even at levels previously thought to be safe. These findings – and the realization that the economic cost of lead poisoning in the form of medical care, special education, and criminal justice are frequently borne by local communities and taxpayers – have given rise to several community-based efforts to make homes lead safe.

In Rochester, the disclosure in 2001 that rates of lead poisoning in children exceeded national rates by 10 fold became a rallying cry for action. The subsequent grassroots outreach, education, and advocacy efforts – led by organizations such as the Coalition to Prevent Lead Poisoning – resulted in the passage of a historic lead abatement ordinance by the City of Rochester in 2005.

The study found that local laws can be highly effective tools to address lead hazards. Specifically, because lead hazards are linked to housing and municipalities typically have the ability to regulate private housing through code enforcement. In Rochester, the new lead abatement ordinance requires regular inspections for lead paint hazards as a part of the city's certificate of occupancy process for rental properties.

The City of Rochester also works with the Monroe County Department of Public Health to identify neighborhoods with high concentrations of children with elevated blood lead levels and revise designations of "high risk" zones within the city, subjecting homes in these areas to a higher level of scrutiny. These efforts have resulted in a 68 percent decline in the number of children with elevated blood lead levels since the new law went into effect in 2006.

MEDICA.de; Source: University of Rochester Medical Center