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New engagement campaign launched as partners update Lead Action Report

Michael Mroziak, WBFO

Partners who last year united to identify and address lead poisoning risks for children offered a progress report Tuesday, and announced the launch of a new community engagement campaign reaching out to property owners and tenants.

Representatives of the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo, City of Buffalo, County of Erie and the Buffalo and Erie County Lead Safe Task Force point out that Buffalo ranks among the top ten cities in the United States for cases of elevated blood lead levels in children. An estimated 27,000 families with children live within ZIP codes deemed high risk areas for lead exposure.

A primary source is the lead-based paint which still exists in many homes built before 1978. Specifically, rental housing.

"Approximately 80 percent of Buffalo's children with elevated blood lead levels live in rental singles and doubles," said Clotilde Perez-Bode Dedecker, president and CEO of Commuity Foundation for Greater Buffalo.

Participants spoke a common theme of partnership and collaboration to address lead poisoning risks. The City of Buffalo, for its part, has addressed lead pipes.

"The city's Replace Old Lead Lines program is eliminating water service lines that contain lead when those lines break or fail," said Mayor Byron Brown. "To date, we have replaced the lines in over 100 homes and are scheduling more every day."

Representing Erie County at Tuesday's progress report were County Executive Mark Poloncarz and Legislature Chair April Baskin. Poloncarz, who resides in an older home within the City of Buffalo, acknowledged seeing the paint dust stirred up into the air when he opens windows, though he added that no children reside there.

Baskin, meanwhile, looks back on her childhood home when her younger brother, as a toddler, was exposed to lead poisoning which affected his growth.

"I know exactly how it happened. I wanted to make sure that, serving in the Legislature, we did something about the kids who are like my brother, who is now 26 years old and never really held a real job," Baskin said. "I don't know how much he will be able to contribute to his future or his society because of this vile sickness, which is essentially brain damage."

As part of Tuesday's event, partners announced the launch of a new campaign, Get Ahead of Lead, which provides information and links for property owners and tenants. The link for property owners includes information how to pursue making their properties lead-safe.

There is also a link on the campaign's website for homeowners that includes information on grants which may help make lead remediation more affordable. Most owners of rental properties in Buffalo, according to the Lead Action Report, hold only two or three properties and live either at one of those holdings or nearby.

Through education and action, not every example of lead poisoning has a troubled ending. Trinetta Alston, a member of the Lead Safe Task Force, is a parent who admits feelings of guilt that her own children were exposed to lead poisoning. However, she says she received the support to help reverse her children's exposure and, today, are in their 20s are not showing any adverse effects caused by that early childhood exposure.

"With a son who is 14, and because of what I went through with them, I made sure I did what I needed to do," Alston said. "My son has never been diagnosed with lead. I know what to look for. It was partly because of the provider that I had and the education I made sure I had for myself."

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
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