Statement of Mark Poloncarz as prepared for delivery
March 9, 2016
There has been much discussion in recent weeks regarding the threat lead exposure poses to young children. Make no mistake lead poisoning is an insidious disease that can destroy a child’s future. Lead is a deadly neurotoxin that can stunt brain development in children under the age of 5, and children who ingest lead, either through chewing on paint chips containing lead or breathing in air containing lead paint dust particles, can suffer serious, permanent neurological damage. It is not a risk to be ignored, and the county is not ignoring this danger.
However, unlike the issues faced in Flint, Michigan, it is not lead in the water supply but old lead paint on the walls of area homes that put children at risk for exposure. Sadly, many parents are unaware the place they call home is potentially poisoning their children.
The problem is not a new one in Erie County. In fact, we have a number of very aggressive programs to combat the danger old lead paint has in our county. Some of these programs help monitor children who have been exposed to lead poisoning, while most address the root cause and attempt to eliminate the risk of lead paint exposure in the home.
The Erie County Department of Health currently operates three robust lead poisoning prevention programs (Lead Poisoning Primary Prevention, Child Lead Poisoning Prevention, and Lead Hazard Control), and the Department of Environment and Planning also remediates area homes through its Community Development Block Grant Program. In fact, since 2008 and through the end of 2015, the Department of Health has inspected 12,733 homes, and overseen the remediation of nearly 1,000 homes per year in the City of Buffalo, while the Department of Environment and Planning has overseen the remediation of another 500 other homes in municipalities as varied as Angola, Colden, Tonawanda, West Seneca and my hometown of Lackawanna.
However, the Buffalo metropolitan region’s extremely old housing stock presents an intractable problem: there are simply not enough sanitarians and support staff to inspect as many housing units as we would like, or provide expanded case management of children who have low but still potentially harmful levels of lead in their blood.
I know we can do more. That is why I am committing $3.75 million of fund balance over the next 5 years, $750,000 per year starting in 2016, to add more inspectors, case management professionals, and purchase other equipment necessary to address the problem and I call on the Legislature to unanimously approve this additional funding. If approved, we can nearly double the number of homes we inspect each year across the entire county, thereby ensuring that these homes are truly a “Home Sweet Home” for our community’s children and not a silent threat slowly poisoning them.
Supplement Erie County’s Existing Lead Programs with additional county dollars to increase the number of properties the Erie County Department of Health can inspect each year, which will substantially increase the number inspected, and to provide better intervention for children with lower blood lead level elevations deemed potentially harmful by the CDC (5-9 mcg/dl).
Senior Investigation Public Health Sanitarian-1. This day-to-day program supervisor will manage new staff, coordinate referral of properties for inspection, and assist in enforcement action including serving as a liaison to housing court.
Investigating Public Health Sanitarian-5. These are the field staff who will assist the existing grant funded inspectors to identify units county-wide with lead hazards, prepare violation notices, respond to referrals, and work closely with existing program staff to visit homes Additionally, they will provide intervention for children with elevated blood lead levels 5-14 mcg/dl.
Principal Clerk-1. These programs generate a tremendous amount of legal paperwork. An additional clerk will be needed to prepare court documents, mail notices, etc. and assist the new sanitarians perform their duties.
Registered Nurse-1. A nurse dedicated to providing case-management for children with lower but still dangerous blood lead level elevations of 5-9 will put Erie County ahead of the curve.
Lead Safe Work Materials. $20,000 per year will be allocated for primer, plastic, Tyvek suits, etc. so property owners outside of lead primary target zip codes can remediate lead paint issues on their own.
Window Fund. Funds not utilized in earlier years of the program (due to lower steps and lower fringe rates) will be allocated towards a fund to provide low interest loans or grants for window replacement based on a sliding income scale. Windows are often the number one source of lead poisoning in a home. It is expected $436,838 will be available for use from this fund during a 5 year period.
Assorted Expenses. Various additional costs like office supplies, mileage, needed county services (IT) and equipment will be needed as well.
That is the our plan to better address the threat of lead exposure in our homes. Yet, we cannot alleviate this problem on our own. We need assistance from all levels of government – local, state, and federal – as well as our partners in the private and not-for-profit sector, like the Community Foundation’s “Green and Healthy Homes Initiative” to rid the area of this problem.
I thank Congressman Brian Higgins for his great leadership on this issue by securing a number of federal grants to address lead poisoning, though I ask him and the rest of our Congressional and Senate delegation to do all they can to provide more federal funding to help us in our task.
Not matter what they do, Erie County will do its part to protect our children from the hidden risk that is lead poisoning and I call on the legislature to approve this new funding by the end of this month so we may strengthen our efforts to eliminate lead from our area’s homes.