Hochul hopes to address lead poisoning, a perennial issue in Schenectady

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul speaks to reporters about legislation passed during a special legislative session in the Red Room at the state Capitol, July 1, 2022, in Albany, N.Y. (AP Photo/Hans Pennink, File)

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul speaks to reporters about legislation passed during a special legislative session in the Red Room at the state Capitol, July 1, 2022, in Albany, N.Y. (AP Photo/Hans Pennink, File)

Rental properties constructed prior to 1980 in certain ZIP codes would be required to undergo regular inspections for lead contaminants under a new proposal laid out by Gov. Kathy Hochul that could have major implications in Schenectady, where much of the city’s aging housing stock has walls lined with lead paint and dozens of children test positive annually for elevated blood lead levels.

The proposal, which Hochul unveiled as part of her State of the State address, would require all rental properties built before 1980 to undergo lead inspections every three years in the 24 ZIP codes at the highest risk for lead exposure outside of New York City. If a home fails an inspection, the hazard would need to be remediated or the home would lose its certificate of occupancy, requiring residents to vacate the premises.

It’s unclear if Schenectady would qualify or how the inspections would work under the proposal. The governor’s office declined to comment, noting that additional details would be made available as part of the budget proposal, which is expected to be handed down by the end of the month. The proposal is expected to include funding to help municipalities cover the cost of inspections and remediation efforts.

Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy said he’s unaware if the city would qualify, but noted lead paint remains an issue in urban communities like Schenectady, where much of the housing stock was constructed prior to the U.S. government outlawing the material in 1978.

“I have no information one way or the other about whether we’re in the 24,” he said. “But the nature of older urban areas like Schenectady [is that] lead paint is a major factor in the houses.”

McCarthy added that it’s unclear how many homes in the city are impacted, but said it was likely a fairly high number.

Lead exposure can lead to a number of health issues, particularly in children, including delayed growth and development, hearing and speech issues, and damage to the brain and nervous system, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Hochul, in her proposal, noted nearly 7,000 children throughout the state are diagnosed with dangerously elevated blood levels annually, resulting in “pernicious health effects that can continue through adulthood.”

Lead poisoning carries an economic toll, as well. A 2019 report by the Children’s Defense Fund of New York found that lead exposure for children born that year would carry a $6.4 billion lifetime economic burden, including medical expenses, education and social assistance programs.

In Schenectady, the city has worked in tandem with the county to remove lead from homes and ensure those suffering from lead poisoning receive the necessary treatment as part of the Schenectady Lead Safe Housing Program, which provides homeowners grants to cover the cost of lead remediation — a costly undertaking that could take thousands of dollars, depending on the extent of the issue.

The program, funded by millions in state and federal grants, including those provided by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, has removed lead from hundreds of homes across the city.

Much of the effort has focused on issues reported by landlords and homeowners, or those discovered after a child shows elevated blood lead levels. The city also inspects apartment complexes with three or more units every three years.

But lead paint continues to remain an issue, with dozens of children testing positive for elevated blood lead levels annually, according to state data.

In 2020 alone, 67 children tested positive for lead blood levels between 5 and 10 micrograms per deciliter of blood throughout Schenectady, and hundreds more showed amounts below 5 microgram per deciliter, according to the most recent state data.

McCarthy noted that lead isn’t an issue when a home is properly maintained, but becomes a concern when the paint starts to crack and peel, and the particles can be breathed in or consumed.

“You can have it where it’s fairly stable and the house is maintained and its not an issue,” he said. “Where you get peeling paint or deterioration it can be a high-risk hazard.”

In an effort to identify more children with elevated blood lead levels, the CDC in 2021 lowered its blood lead reference value from 5 micrograms per deciliter of blood to 3.5 micrograms per deciliter. The move was intended to accelerate treatment for children and the process of removing the source of exposure.

It’s unclear how the lower levels are impacting remediation efforts, but Schenectady County Public Health Services last year hired an additional staffer in light of the new standards, expecting an increase in volume of children testing positive for elevated lead levels in their blood.

The county did not make an official available for an interview, but a spokesperson noted in an email that the county has recently received a five-year grant through the state’s Department of Health’s Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program, which focuses on prevention and intervention strategies to reduce lead poisoning.

“Schenectady County Public Health Services (SCPHS) has staff that provide education regarding lead poisoning to guardians of children with elevated blood lead levels and staff who are certified as lead risk assessors to inspect properties for lead hazards as well as provide clearance inspections once hazards have been remediated,” Erin Roberts, the county spokesperson, said in an email.

The county can also require a property owner to abate lead whenever it’s discovered or take temporary remediation efforts that include paint film stabilization and dust control, Roberts said.

McCarthy, meanwhile, said he’s waiting to learn more about the proposal.

“We’re eagerly waiting the final details and looking forward to working with the governor to implement this,” he said.

Contact reporter Chad Arnold at: [email protected] or by calling 518-395-3120.

Categories: News, Schenectady, Schenectady County

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