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Investigative Post: City Hall slow to enforce lead measures

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Dan Telvock
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Lead paint from Buffalo's older housing stock continues to cause high rates of lead poisoning in the city.

Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown’s plan to combat lead poisoning is off to a slow start. As Investigative Post environmental reporter Dan Telvock found, the pace of execution for the mayor’s plan is slower than many residents expect.

Buffalo remains a hotspot for lead poisoning. Over the past four years, more than 1,000 children, most of them living in the inner city, have been diagnosed with dangerous levels of lead in their blood.

But you wouldn’t know it by City Hall’s slow rollout of its plan to deal with the problem and that troubles Carolette Meadows, the mother of a child who has been diagnosed with a dangerous level of lead in her blood. Exposure to lead can cause learning disabilities and behavioral problems in children.

“If even one child loses his intellectual capabilities due to lead, we’ve created a gross injustice in our community,” said Meadows.

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Credit Dan Telvock
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Carolette Meadows is the mother of a child who has been diagnosed with a dangerous level of lead in her blood.

Investigative Post has been reporting on Buffalo’s lead poisoning problem for more than two years and finally, last summer, Mayor Byron Brown announced a plan to combat the crisis.

Part of Brown’s plan seeks to ensure property managers know how to maintain and renovate rentals that contain lead paint. The city has more than 800 property managers but only 14 have complied with the requirement.

"We are going to get them to sign up. This is fairly new," Brown replied.

The mayor also created a lead hotline for tenants to report chipping and peeling paint. But the hotline hasn’t received many calls, just 39, over the past 10 months.

"We have educated people about this issue," Brown said. "There is also the responsibility of the families to be involved in this issue."

Another part of the mayor’s plan involves houses built before 1978, which presumably have lead paint. Landlords are required to certify that both they and their tenants are aware that lead may be lurking. But the city only recently began sending the required forms to the owners of some 22,000 rental properties.

There is some progress to report. The city concentrated inspections in the worst hotspots on the East and West sides. City inspectors checked more than 4,000 homes. Eleven percent failed for chipping and peeling paint.

But unlike in Rochester, Buffalo inspectors do not have the authority to regularly get inside one- and two-family rentals to test for lead paint. The mayor remains resistant to mandate regular inspections of these rentals even though interior inspections have proven to be critical in addressing the problem in Rochester.

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Credit Dan Telvock
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Andrew McLelland believes Buffalo's effort to combat lead poisoning lacks teeth.

"We looked at national models and we don’t feel it’s necessary," Brown said.

“It lacks innovation,” said Andrew McLellan, a member of the state’s lead task force and training director for an EPA-accredited lead hazard control company, who said the city’s program lacks teeth.

“The fact is they’re not getting the numbers of people to participate in the program or call about the inspections that we need to attack the problem.”

Carolette Meadows also doesn’t think the mayor is doing enough.

"It’s going to be an endless cycle of lead. I know they have the capacity to figure it out and solve the problem. Will is the problem. As long as we sit back and passively just ask them to do what’s right they never will."

Dan Telvock covers the environment for Investigative Post.