Central New York is home to various features to be proud of – rolling hills and sparkling waters, timeless history, and a blossoming arts scene. However, it is also the epicenter of the country’s childhood lead poisoning epidemic. The truth of the matter is that lead poisoning is uncomfortably close to home – so close it resides within the very walls that surround us.
Lead poisoning predominately affects children but can affect adults as well. The most damaging symptom in children is the irreversible effect lead has on a child’s neurological development, which can range from hyperactivity to brain damage. According to the Onondaga County Health Department, 10.5 percent of Syracuse children tested in 2021 were shown to have levels over 5 mcg/dl.
Lead poisoning rates look even higher when you zoom in to analyze census tracts that also report high levels of poverty and poor housing conditions. Within tract 23, which is located just north of Interstate 690 between Pearl and Lodi streets, 18.5 percent of children tested were shown to have elevated lead levels in 2020. Large refugee communities live in this neighborhood, which boasts a 24 percent foreign-born population.
Census tract 54 is located in the Brighton neighborhood of Syracuse’s Southside and includes the immediate area around the Beauchamp Library. Here, a striking 36 percent of residents live below the poverty line. In this neighborhood, more than 32 percent of children tested had elevated lead levels.
The Black community of Syracuse is disproportionately impacted by lead poisoning, making this not only a health crisis but also a social, economic, and environmental injustice. Across the country, Black and Latino neighborhoods have been found to exhibit extraordinarily high rates of lead toxicity compared to White neighborhoods and our region is no exception. In 2020, more than 10% of Black children in Onondaga County were found to have elevated lead levels compared to 1.8% of White children.
Despite the current crisis surrounding residential lead poisoning, there are various organizations working to remedy the causes. Lead Free Kids New York is on the front lines in this endeavor, by lobbying for support that will assist families affected by lead, and to end the poisoning of children entirely.
“We work statewide to identify and advocate for state level policy solutions to childhood lead exposure in housing and other settings within the community,” Lead Free Kids New York said. “Our goal is to create a tipping point, prioritizing disproportionately impacted communities of low-income and color, where the public and private sectors fully integrate lead exposure prevention into all facets of climate change, housing, health, labor and environmental policy.”
Lead Free Kids New York has made great strides in regards to its campaign work, supporting families and providing communication work to increase awareness. In addition to its advocacy in communities, the organization has created waves within the legislative system by lobbying for change. The Central New York Community Foundation partnered with other foundations to support Lead Free Kids New York with a $25,000 grant that assisted with grassroots lobbying expenditures.
Today, Lead Free Kids New York plans to increase its presence in the local and political spheres, aiming to address childhood lead poisoning where change is possible. The Central New York Community Foundation commends the organization for its work, and is proud to support its vision.