The Syracuse community has been fighting to put an end to childhood lead poisoning but there is much ground to cover. Tomorrow’s Neighborhoods Today (TNT) is stepping in to help by raising awareness among community members about the opportunities families have to protect themselves from this danger.
“Parents feel very badly that their kids are harmed; they feel responsible when their child is exposed to lead. But it isn’t just their responsibility,” said Jaime Howley, co-chair of the Neighborhood and Housing Taskforce at TNT. “It is the responsibility of the community and our society as a whole. We should work together to give them the facts and the support they need, simply because we love our children and want the damage to stop.”
The strategy for TNT has been to get out into the neighborhoods, talk to residents face-to-face, and provide them with useful information on how to test for lead and find resources needed to remediate it from their homes. Without this outreach, many community members may have no knowledge of the lead paint risk that still exists.
“Despite the fact that Syracuse’s lead paint problem has been around for a long time, people’s reactions are ‘I thought that wasn’t a problem anymore,’” said Howley. “As a community, we stopped talking about it at some point, but the problem never went away.”
Howley emphasized that the concern and risk is greatest for those living in homes built before lead paint was banned in 1978, especially in poorly maintained rental properties found in neighborhoods of high poverty. This, Howley points out, leaves residents extremely susceptible to lead exposure. View a map of lead poisoning rates in high-poverty neighborhoods of Syracuse.
“Lead disproportionately damages the most vulnerable children in our city,” said Howley. “The neighborhoods that we target, and that are most at risk, are home to New Americans and other groups who are dealing with a number of other challenges.”
TNT’s main message to residents is that lead poisoning most commonly occurs from peeling, flaking or chipping paint on windows, doors, porches and floors. The invisible dust that results from friction of these surfaces is the most dangerous. As an immediate stop-gap measure, they recommend that residents remove lead debris with disposable wet wipes.
As part of their outreach efforts, TNT has canvased neighborhoods with bags full of informative handouts and free wet wipes, attended community events to distribute resources, collaborated with other organizations and held the Get the Lead Out of the Block Party in Southside Syracuse.
The Central New York Community Foundation helped launch these outreach efforts with a $30,000 grant through its LeadSafeCNY initiative, a multi-year commitment to help decrease the region’s alarming childhood lead poisoning rates.
“The only way out of this is to work together,” Howley added. “Community support and collaboration are so important, and that is why I am very happy that the Community Foundation supports this mission and our message to reach out to these parents.”
This fall, TNT will be participating in a series of Town Hall events hosted by the Onondaga County Health Department to provide community members information regarding lead poisoning prevention. Registration is available online. They will also be attending a Legislative Lobby Day hosted by the David B. Falk College of Sport and Human Dynamics at Syracuse University to speak with New York State legislators on behalf of residents affected by lead poisoning.
TNT’s goals are to increase the number of children and homes tested, decrease the number of children with elevated blood lead levels and empower individuals to advocate for lead safe homes. These goals, Howley believes, will require dedication from TNT volunteers, but also from every resident in the area.