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Declaring War on the Invisible Monster

On an East Side residential street near St. John Kanty, Kim
Lewis and her extended family have ‎established an enclave where she enjoys
assisting with the care of her ‎grandchildren. But on a street showing the
danger signs of lead hazard–homes built before 1978, ‎many having fallen behind
on maintenance and upkeep over the years–she grew concerned for her
grandchildren, ‎and took action. 

Today, their houses are receiving assistance
from the community’s ‎effort to fight lead poisoning, from workers trained in
lead abatement by ‎Environmental Education Associates, a partner in the
community-wide effort. Their work formed ‎the backdrop for Tuesday’s
announcement by all the partners that have been brought together ‎by the
Community Foundation of Greater Buffalo‎.

‎”If you knew there were children drowning in Lake Erie–right
now–what would you do?” asked ‎Clotilde Perez-Bode Dedecker, the Foundation’s
President and CEO. “You’d jump in and save ‎them, of course.”


‎And the fact is, in many parts of Buffalo–as in most of New
York’s urban areas–children are now drowning in a sea of ‎lead. And, cruelly,
lead poisoning makes majorities out of minorities: more than 90% of Buffalo’s
African-American ‎children, and 64% of Hispanic children, are living in some of
our state’s worst lead poisoning zip codes. “This is more than a health
crisis–it’s a social injustice,” Clotilde said. It’s both shocking and
heartbreaking to hear that fully one third of all lead poisoning cases
reported in 2006 in New York ‎‎(outside of New York City) were from six zip
codes in Buffalo
. If that doesn’t send a chill down ‎your spine, reread it.
Those six zip codes are: 14207 (Black Rock, Riverside), 14208 (Hamlin ‎Park,
Cold Spring), 14211 (Schiller Park, etc.), 1421 (Broadway-Fillmore), 14213
(West Side), ‎and 14215 (Kenfield, etc.).

‎My admiration for the crusaders against this monstrous problem
is that they remain undaunted and undeterred in the face of these numbers–and
in the face of politicians who don’t always share their sense of urgency.
Despite a major disappointment last ‎year(
with a veto by the ‎governor of urgently needed lead-abatement tax credits,
anti-lead activists have taken their crusade in other directions. One result is
the statewide Lead ‎Poisoning Prevention Pilot Program, which will operate in
thirteen New York counties, including ‎Erie.

street 2.jpg

According to Clotilde, the program will provide lead testing as
well as supplies and materials for lead abatement. 500 lead abatement workers
will be trained, ‎and 400 out-of-state volunteers will work in Buffalo during
the summer. The Community Foundation will provide coordination.

Clotilde reiterated the ‎importance of testing children who may
have been exposed to lead. Since lead poisoning is truly the “invisible
monster,” testing is the only way to ‎know if a child has been affected so
that treatment and intervention can be brought to bear before permanent damage
is done.‎ She also described the devastating effects of lead poisoning on
individuals and our communities, using words that paralleled those of the
Buffalo News editorial page last
, which stated:

Evidence that early lead poisoning ‎causes brain damage is
overwhelming. That damage can affect everything from decision-making ‎to
impulse control. A recent study in the Cincinnati area showed that children who
have been ‎exposed to lead paint are much more likely to be arrested once they
hit age 18. The more lead ‎exposure during childhood, the greater the
likelihood of arrest, sometimes for crimes of violence.

The costs of lead poisoning to children, families,
neighborhoods, and society are staggering and tragic–all the more so as lead
poisoning is 100% preventable.

‎The other piece of the effort will be a massive outreach
campaign, kicking off this week. A hotline has been set up, 712-‎‎5500, and a
web site, Information will ‎go
out through TV and radio ads, billboards, and through neighborhood centers and
churches. The advertising and collateral materials for the campaign are being
donated by Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Western New York, and have been created by
their advertising agency, Jay Advertising of Rochester.

Donna Brown, Buffalo’s deputy mayor, praised the approach,
saying that “every single day we ‎have the opportunity to affect this. The
Mayor is backing this 110%.”

Alphonso O’Neil-White, President of Excellus Blue Cross/Blue
Shield, the Community ‎Foundation’s major partner in this initiative, said that
lead poisoning can absolutely be prevented, ‎and declared that “one case
is one too many.” He cited an African proverb, “He who has health ‎has
hope, and he who has hope has everything.”

Dr. Anthony Billitier, Erie County Health Commissioner, decried
the reactive approach to date of public ‎health officials to the threat of lead
poisoning, which has been to respond to cases of ‎lead poisoning as they are
identified. He strongly endorsed the proactive approach of the coalition,
saying, “we need to get out ahead of this.”

‎David Hahn-Baker praised the role of the Community Foundation,
calling it “a ‎place where everyone can come together on this.”
Having worked on environmental justice ‎issues since the mid-1980’s (including
in Washington), David has been one of Buffalo’s most ‎persistent and active
voices in fighting the Invisible Monster, and has worked with advocates in ‎Rochester and across the state.‎

Andrew McLellan of Environmental Education Associates has also
been involved at the state-‎level in the fight against lead poisoning, and is
currently an appointee to the Governor’s task force on ‎the issue. He pulls no
punches in conveying his disappointment in Albany’s ‎lack of leadership, which leaves
resource-strapped urban areas to grapple with the issue. “It’s a shame that we
have to take these steps on our own,” he said. “New ‎York State is the North
Korea of lead.” About efforts at the local level, he cited New York City ‎and
Rochester as having aggressive programs. As for Buffalo, the current laws
governing lead ‎abatement are not as well known and need to be updated, he told
me. Andrew’s associate, Mary ‎Fisher, told me that the Cit is not where it
needs to be on both legislation and enforcement. She is working directly with
the workers who perform lead abatement, and is squarely on the front lines of
the fight.‎

‎Abatement work is at the center of the fight, and it’s where I
see incredible potential in the effort. Preventing lead poisoning isn’t just
about public ‎health, but also economic health–it puts people to work in our ‎neighborhoods,
and can teach skills which can be the basis for a lifetime’s employment. David
Hahn-Baker put together some ‎numbers for a recent stimulus funding proposal
showing that making Buffalo homes lead safe ‎would create at least 3,000 jobs–and
possibly double that. Many of those hired would be ‎working to fix up their own
neighborhoods. About the requirement that stimulus funds go only to ‎‎”shovel
ready” projects, David likes to turn that on its head by saying
“we’re paintbrush ready long before ‎we’re shovel ready!”‎ 

workers poster.jpg

As I walked back down Kim Lewis’ street, the abatement workers
had resumed a scene which hopefully will become commonplace and ‎welcomed
throughout the neighborhoods in Buffalo where children are in peril of ‎a visit
from the Invisible Monster. With the help of the community, Kim Lewis is
putting her ‎extended family out of the Monster’s clutches. Let’s keep up the work,
and keep up the pressure, ‎until the Monster is banished from all our children’s
closets. And let’s not lose this opportunity to put our own people to work,
fixing up Our Fair City.‎

Get connected:‎

(716) ‎712-5500‎

in the Wipe Out Lead campaign include: the City of Buffalo, Erie County,
Buffalo Block Clubs, the Baptist Ministers’ Conference of Buffalo and Vicinity,
Community Action Organization, Buffalo Pre-natal, Peri-natal Network,
Environmental Education Associates, and Family Environmental Health Resources.
The campaign is sponsored with support from the U.S. Department of Housing and
Urban Development.

Written by RaChaCha


RaChaCha is a Garbage Plate™ kid making his way in a Chicken Wing world. Since 2008, he's put over a hundred articles on here, and he asked us to be sure to thank you for reading. So, thank you for reading. You may also have seen his freelance byline in Artvoice, where he writes under the name his daddy gave him [Ed: Send me a check, and I might reveal what that is]. When he's not writing, RaChaCha is an urban planner, a rehabber of houses, and a community builder. He co-founded the Buffalo Mass Mob, and would love to see you at the next one. He represents Buffalo Young Preservationists on the Trico roundtable. If you try to demolish a historic building, he might have something to say about that. He is a proud AmeriCorps alum.

Things you may not know about RaChaCha (unless you read this before): "Ra Cha Cha" is a nickname of his hometown. (Didn't you know that? Do you live under a rock?) He's a political junkie (he once worked for the president of the Monroe County Legislature), but we don't really let him write about politics on here. He helped create a major greenway in the Genesee Valley, and worked on early planning for the Canalway Trail. He hopes you enjoy biking and hiking on those because that's what he put in all that work for. He was a ringleader of the legendary "Chill the Fill" campaign to save Rochester's old downtown subway tunnel. In fact, he comes from a long line of troublemakers. An ancestor fought at Bunker Hill, and a relative led the Bear Flag Revolt in California. We advise you to remember this before messing with him in the comments. He worked on planning the Rochester ARTWalk, and thinks Buffalo should have one of those, too (write your congressman).

You can also find RaChaCha (all too often, we frequently nag him) on the Twitters at @HeyRaChaCha. Which is what some people here yell when they see him on the street. You know who you are.

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