Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Poor housing conditions expose children to health risks from environmental toxins

Mold covers the bathroom walls.
Gino Fanelli
Mold exposure poses a severe threat to children's health, particularly for those with respiratory issues like asthma.

Children face significant health risks from environmental toxins like lead and mold due to poor housing conditions.

These issues, which disproportionately affect economically vulnerable populations, were among the dozens of issues discussed at the Climate Solutions Summit held at the Hyatt Regency Downtown Rochester this weekend, pointing to the urgent need for action.

Lindsay Rhoades, a nurse case manager at Golisano Children’s Hospital, said that the dangers of lead poisoning are often most prevalent in older rental properties with lead paint.

"We do routine screenings for those at two and three years of age, and a lot of patients who don't have overt suspicion for lead exposure do come back with higher elevated lead levels, requiring some intervention," she said.

Rhoades noted that lead exposure could cause developmental delays in children.

"So that's the number-one effect that we see — some unmet developmental milestones and regressions that may be related to an elevated lead level," she said.

Mold exposure also poses a severe threat to children's health, particularly for those with respiratory issues like asthma.

Dr. Sandy Mayer, a clinical pediatrician and faculty member at the University of Rochester Medical Center, shared a case to illustrate this point.

"I saw a child once who was in the hospital three or four times within a year for asthma, and I asked the mother where they lived, and she showed me their built environment," he said. "And there were pictures on her phone of mold all around the top of the apartment that they lived in."

Rhoades, who is part of Golisano’s Sustainability Clinic, said that healthcare providers need to be among those who educate tenants, especially parents, about the health risks associated with their living environments and preventative measures they can take.

Her hope is that initiatives like this can reduce the impact of environmental toxins on children's health in Rochester and beyond.

Jasmin Singer is the host of WXXI’s Weekend Edition and Environmental Connections, as well as a guest host for Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Connections.