Submission by Ryan Mooney:
There is a murderer holding our city hostage. Lead paint in houses is killing parts of the city of Buffalo. This often-overlooked concern is destroying the futures of many citizens of the city. There are 36 zip codes in New York where citizens, especially children, are considered to be at a high risk for lead poisoning. Eight of those are in the city of Buffalo and are designated as “communities of concern.” Indeed, we should be concerned. Statewide, 95% of all new cases of hazardous blood-lead levels occur in Buffalo. It is time that the state and local authorities get serious in combating this problem. This can be accomplished through greater funding of lead abatement projects and through legislation targeting the issue of lead paint in homes.
But more funding and more laws mean more money. The whole country is in a recession. The question of whether we can afford these things might be raised. The answer is simply that we cannot afford ignore the issue of lead in Buffalo. Buffalo’s economy has been in a “recession” for years.
The city of buffalo has a poverty rate of 30.2% according to the 2010 census. That is one out of every three people living below the poverty line. These people are constrained to some of the cheapest and oldest housing stock in the entire country. This is where the problem lies. 87% of the housing in the city was built more than 50 years ago. So the vast majority of houses in Buffalo were built long before 1978 when the US banned the use of lead paint in residential housing. Thousands of people with limited financial means are living in old, substandard housing and are exposed to lead-based paint.
Many of our neighbors exposed to lead are children and they are the most at risk for lead poisoning. They have the most to lose. Not only that, but when the children lose, the city loses its future.
For one thing, the health care costs of lead poisoning are staggering. The PEW Research Center estimates health care costs of elevated lead levels in children to be anywhere between 10.8 and 53 million dollars. Lead exposure can cause loss of IQ, impulsive behavior, and even permanent brain damage. Most of this exposure and poisoning is caused by lead paint and children are most likely to come into contact with exposed and stray paint dust.
Given these devastating effects of lead poisoning, the costs go much further than potential medical expenses. Many of these effects are irreversible. A child’s life can be irreparably damaged due to lead poisoning. Their performance in school and future earnings potential are handicapped. Buffalo public schools only have a graduation rate of 46%. This correlation does not necessarily imply causation, but it is strong food for thought. A connection has also been made between behavioral problems and childhood lead exposure. This includes criminal activity. Truly, the lead problem is robbing our community of resources and, most importantly, robbing our children of their futures.
Despite the obvious danger and damage, the state and the city are not effectively addressing the problem. The city charter in Buffalo currently has no lead-based paint provisions and no provisions for the regular inspection of properties. On the state level, the state has never obtained delegated authority from the EPA to run its own lead abatement programs nor has it obtained EPA delegated authority to lead a lead evaluation, certification, and work practices regimen. The current Sanitary Code just doesn’t live up to federal regulations and the dire situation in the city illustrates this point.
This is unacceptable and needs to change. While other cities across the nation have made great strides in lead abatement, Buffalo remains high risk. The state needs to adopt all of the EPA’s lead rules and receive delegated authority from the EPA to run its programs. Furthermore, legislation must be passed on the state and local level that goes above and beyond federal regulations. These laws should include stricter provisions regarding the renting of many of the older, low-cost properties that make up the majority of city housing. For example, there should be tougher certificate of occupancy requirements for landlords and these owners should be required to conduct regular inspections, especially before renting property. Most importantly, the city needs state funding to implement new legislation and assist low-income property owners and tenants to help get the lead out. It is time to get vocal about this problem and let our leaders know we want real solutions.
Image from EPA website: Pelletized/Granulated CO2 blasting (demonstrated on interior surfaces) – This technology uses shaved block dry ice, which was also replenished approximately every 15 minutes to create a fine crystalline blasting medium. The removal mechanism for both technologies is a three-part process where there is a mechanical abrasion of the surface with the pellets/granules; a spalling of the material surface caused by rapid expansion of the carbon dioxide during sublimation; and thermal fracturing between the substrate and the surface causing the material to expand and contract. This process causes the lead paint to fracture into chips as it leaves the surface.