WXXI AM News

Lead levels down in Monroe County children

Sep 13, 2018

Childhood lead exposure is down in Monroe County, according to the public health department’s most recent data, even as children in some areas remain much more susceptible than others.

Old lead paint on aging buildings is contributing to higher rates of elevated lead levels in Rochester children than in the rest of Monroe County, health commissioner Michael Mendoza said.
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The data, which come from blood samples taken from children less than 6 years old in Monroe County last year, showed that elevated blood lead levels are concentrated in the city of Rochester.

Of the 20 children whose tests measured the highest blood lead level, 19 of them were in the city. That’s no surprise, said county health commissioner Michael Mendoza.

“Most of the lead that is in our community is found in the housing stock, and the housing stock in the city is just well known to have higher levels of lead in the paint.”

Mendoza said as buildings age, their paint turns to dust that settles on surfaces and presents a danger to infants.

“One-year-olds and two-year-olds are notorious for putting things in their mouth,” Mendoza said. “Children ingest that lead and it goes to their bloodstream.”

Doors and windows are typically the areas that generate the most lead dust, because they're moving parts that slough off layers of paint through friction, said co-chair of the Rochester-based Coalition to Prevent Lead Poisoning Mel Callan.

"The city and county are working well together to target homeowners and landlords with grants that help them improve homes and decrease the risk of lead exposure," Callan said.

The data also showed a decrease county-wide in the number of children on the low end of elevated levels, which federal experts define as greater than 5 micrograms per deciliter, but an increase in those with more severe exposure.

Mendoza said that was a sign that more testing is needed. Blood samples for lead exposure are a preventive measure, he said, and catching rising levels early can help parents and caregivers protect children from future harm.

In a statement, Mayor Lovely Warren said the data underscore the need for the city to work with property owners to keep lead from paint and other sources from contaminating homes.