Schenectady County

Schenectady County creating new position to address concerns over lead


SCHENECTADY — Months after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lowered its standard for blood lead levels in children 5 and under, the Schenectady County Legislature on Monday took the first step in hiring a specialist to handle an expected increase in children testing for elevated levels of lead.  

The CDC in October lowered the allowable blood lead level standard from 5 micrograms per deciliter of blood to 3.5, a move that would allow more children between the ages of 1 and 5 with lead in their system to receive treatment and give local health departments the ability to locate and remediate the source of exposure.  

“Protecting children from exposure to lead is important to lifelong good health. No safe blood lead level in children has been identified,” the CDC wrote in its decision to lower the levels. “Even low levels of lead in blood have been shown to reduce a child’s learning capacity, ability to pay attention, and academic achievement.”

The new standard comes at a time when testing for lead has dropped significantly due to the pandemic, an issue exacerbated last year by a recall issued by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration pertaining to a device commonly used by doctors to test for elevated blood lead levels. 

The device provided results within minutes using either a finger or heel prick. Without it, parents seeking to have their children tested for lead must travel to a 3rd-party lab to have a sample drawn through a vein, which has created barriers for those lacking transportation, according to Erin Roberts, a spokeswoman for Schenectady County Public Health. 

More from Schenectady – The Daily Gazette

A new device has since hit the market but is still not widely available due to supply-chain issues. 

Testing for lead has declined dramatically in Schenectady County since the onset of the pandemic, an issue that has likely impacted those living in the city of Schenectady the most. Much of the city’s housing stock was constructed prior to 1978, the year lead paint was outlawed for use in residential dwellings. 

Roberts said the county is working to increase the number of blood lead testing through education and outreach. Health-care providers are required to perform lead blood tests on children ages 1 and 2 under New York state law.  

“SCPHS is working with health care providers to educate them on how to increase the number of children who are tested,” Roberts said in an email. “This includes assisting in educating families on the importance of getting a blood draw test and coordinating with health care providers to decrease barriers so families can follow-through with their lab appointments.”

The county Legislature’s Committee on Health, Housing and Human Services voted to create a new position within the health department that will focus solely on lead using an additional $184,337 in federal funding received under the Childhood Lead Position Prevention Program. A final vote from the full Legislature is expected later this month.

The new position, which will come with an annual salary of $43,356, will work with landlords and homeowners to remediate lead hazards “to ensure the health and safety of residents within Schenectady County,” according to a description of the position submitted by the health department. 

Lead paint is a problem throughout the county, but disproportionately impacts residents living in Schenectady, according to Claire Proffitt, the county’s deputy public health director. 

“We do respond to elevated blood lead levels anywhere in the county because of course you could be at risk even if you’re in a rural area or in a suburban area,” she said. “But we do see it disproportionately affecting people in the city.”

The Schenectady County Lead Poisoning Prevention Program focuses on identifying and remediating lead paint in a number of ZIP codes throughout the city where elevated blood lead levels in children are commonly found. They include: 12303, 12304, 12307 and 12308, or those associated with the Mont Pleasant, Hamilton Hill and Woodlawn neighborhoods. 

The city has awarded millions in grants to remediate lead in hundreds of households through its Lead Safe Housing Program in recent years, though the extent of the problem remains unclear. 

Lead paint is often discovered through blood lead testing in children, but testing has dropped sharply since the pandemic emerged in 2020.  

More from Schenectady – The Daily Gazette

In 2019, the county completed 3,712 blood lead tests, 445 of which required follow-up testing. Just 2,972 tests were completed in 2020, 397 of which required a follow-up appointment, a decrease of 20% and 11%, respectively, according to county data. 

Follow-up testing is required whenever elevated blood lead levels of 5 micrograms per deciliter is discovered.

Testing declined further in 2021, when the FDA recalled a device commonly used for blood lead testing. A total of 2,892 tests were conducted, resulting in 253 follow-ups.

Work to identify and remediate lead in homes also declined in 2020 but has since rebounded, according to county data.

A total of 90 properties were inspected for lead through the county in 2019, 80 of which were cleared. Just 41 properties were inspected in 2020 and 28 were cleared. Last year, the county health department inspected 88 properties for lead and cleared 75.

Proffitt said she anticipates the number of children being tested for lead will increase once accessing to testing becomes more widely available in the months ahead.

“We do expect to see an increase in those numbers,” she said.

Contact reporter Chad Arnold at: 518-410-5117 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @ChadGArnold.  

More from Schenectady – The Daily Gazette

Categories: News, Schenectady, Schenectady County

Leave a Reply