The following information will help you to understand where lead poisoning occurs and why we as a community have the need to address this public health and housing problem.
What is lead poisoning?
Lead is a highly toxic substance, exposure to which can produce a wide range of adverse health effects. Both adults and children can suffer from the effects of lead poisoning, but childhood lead poisoning is much more frequent. There are many ways in which humans are exposed to lead: through deteriorating paint, household dust, bare soil, air, drinking water, food, ceramics, home remedies, hair dyes and other cosmetics. Deteriorating lead paint or lead-contaminated dust in homes produces the vast majority of the childhood lead poisoning cases in Rochester and the nation.
Exposure to lead is estimated by measuring levels of lead in the blood (in micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood). The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has set a "level of concern" for children at 10 micrograms per deciliter. At this level, it is generally accepted that adverse health effects can begin to set in.
Children under the age of six are especially vulnerable to lead's harmful health effects, because their brains and central nervous system are still being formed. Lead exposure through ingestion or inhalation may result in reduced IQ, learning disabilities, attention deficit disorders, behavioral problems, stunted growth, impaired hearing, and kidney damage. At high levels of exposure, a child may become mentally retarded, fall into a coma, and even die from lead poisoning. Adult lead poisoning can increase blood pressure and cause fertility problems, nerve disorders, muscle and joint pain, irritability, and memory or concentration problems. It takes a significantly greater level of exposure to lead for adults than kids to cause adverse health effects. Lead can also be passed from mother to baby during pregnancy.
How do we know lead poisoning exists in Rochester?
In 2002, the Center for Governmental Research reported that nearly 25% of all children in the city of Rochester had blood lead levels above 10 µg/dL, the standard by which lead causes developmental and possibly physical harm to children. This data is collected and shared annually by the Monroe County Department of Public Health.
The number of children with elevated blood lead levels has decreased in recent years. 13,628 children under the age of six in our area were screened for traces of lead in their blood in 2005. Monroe County Department of Health officials identified 675 children with elevated blood lead levels. 47 children were newly identified as having elevated blood lead levels requiring household health intervention by New York State (20 µg/dl or more).
In determining which housing in the City of Rochester is most likely to contain lead-paint hazards, we identified the top indicators as the proportion of rental housing, the age of the housing stock, and the poverty of the neighborhood. Several Rochester neighborhoods fall under extreme risk on all three measures.
Based upon factors determined as the most reliable risk indicators by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Rochester ranks third of all 1,007 municipalities in New York State with respect to the number of units likely to contain lead-paint hazards. Thus, a majority of children in Rochester are living in what is by definition high lead risk housing.
Isn’t there lead in the City’s Water system?
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in partnership with the Monroe County Department of Public Health conducted lead testing in the water in schools, during the Spring/Summer of 2004. Our water was not found to contain hazardous lead levels. In general we've found few problems with lead in Rochester's drinking water, partly because of the pH of our water, which is fairly basic and doesn't leach lead from pipes and solder as readily as in other cities.
Do the City schools have lead hazards?
Like all pre-1978 buildings, Rochester City School District (RCSD) buildings contain lead-based paint that is monitored by Rochester City School District Environmental Health & Safety staff. The RSCD maintains all painted surfaces through a schedule of re-painting classrooms, hallways and other spaces using HUD-recommended lead safety guidelines.
If the surface does contain lead, the RSCD hires a certified lead abatement contractor to do the work. Depending on the size and type of the job, this could also include sampling of surfaces after the work is done to confirm that adequate clean up has occurred.
The RCSD does keep a record of buildings and surfaces/materials that have been tested for lead. They require that any contractor who will be disturbing any such surface test it for lead first, and provide staff with those results. Again, if lead is found, an EPA-certified contractor is used and approved lead-safe methods must be used.
Does lead dust in the air cause lead poisoning?
Past research shows that lead in the atmosphere may contribute to levels of lead in household dust, with some studies quantifying the amount of lead deposited from the air over time. However, exterior sources of lead alone are unlikely to create sufficiently high levels of lead in the indoor environment to cause significantly elevated blood lead levels in children.
Washing floors every few weeks is suggested to keep floor lead dust levels below federal standards (40 µg/sq.ft.). The City of Rochester and Coalition to Prevent Lead Poisoning also recommend washing window sills and wells often. This will prevent any issues with potential accumulation of lead in houses where interior and exterior lead hazards have been appropriately treated.