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Lead levels down in Monroe County children, but risks remain

Deteriorating paint in homes represents most of the risk of lead poisoning for young children in Monroe County.
Environmental Protection Agency
Deteriorating paint in homes represents most of the risk of lead poisoning for young children in Monroe County.

The number of young children with elevated blood lead levels in Monroe County has dropped slightly, according to the latest numbers from the public health department.

The percentage of children younger than 6 who tested positive for elevated blood levels last year was 1.14%, down a fraction of a percent compared to 2017.

The data showed some local children are at a much higher risk of lead poisoning than others, said Mel Callan, who chairs the nonprofit advocacy group Coalition to Prevent Lead Poisoning.

“It is the city kids that are most at risk,” Callan said. “And who lives in those city homes is families of color. And so, it is our black and brown children that seem to be at greater risk.”

The vast majority of Monroe County children who showed elevated blood lead levels in tests last year lived in ZIP codes that fell inside the city of Rochester, according to the county’s data.

And of the 15 kids with the highest blood lead levels, all but one lived in those city ZIP codes.

Callan said there’s no safe level of lead in the blood, but the higher the level, the greater the potential problems.

“There’s a greater risk of reduction in IQ, behavior problems, inability to focus,” Callan said. “And a lot of these results can lead to juvenile delinquency, poor decision-making, and inability to learn.”

Most of the risk of lead poisoning in Monroe County comes from the housing stock, Callan said. Old paint flakes off and ends up on the floor or other surfaces.

“Children, especially little ones, have hand-to-mouth behaviors, so they ingest that leaded paint,” said Callan. “That’s how they get poisoned. It’s really from homes that are in disrepair.”

Monroe County and the city of Rochester have made great strides toward reducing this risk, said Callan. The proportion of children younger than 6 who had elevated blood lead levels was more than twice as high a decade ago as it is now.

The city and the county both offer training and advice for reducing the risk of lead exposure in homes.

Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren said in a statement that she’s proud of that progress.

Still, Callan said, there’s more work to do.

“We seem to have plateaued,” she said. “We saw substantial decreases in past years, but the progress has slowed.”

Brett was the health reporter and a producer at WXXI News. He has a master’s degree from the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism.
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