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Upstate Medical to use $1.25M state grant to fund lead-poisoning prevention center

By Eric Reinhardt

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The New York State Department of Health has awarded Upstate Medical University a grant of $1.25 million so its Central/Eastern New York Lead Poisoning Resource Center can continue its work as a lead-resource center. (Eric Reinhardt / BJNN)

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — The Central/Eastern New York Lead Poisoning Resource Center at Upstate Medical University will use a state grant of $1.25 million to continue its work as a lead-resource center.

The New York State Department of Health awarded the five-year grant which covers the years 2017 through 2021, Upstate Medical said in a news release.

Upstate Medical’s center is one of three lead-resource centers in the state “and the only center of its kind in the central and eastern New York [regions], covering 31 counties,” the organization said.

“This award represents a continuation of 20 years of support from the New York State Health Department,” Dr. Howard Weinberger, program director and professor of pediatrics at Upstate, said.

Even though the number of children requiring such treatment has “decreased dramatically over the years” and lead-poisoning prevention efforts have been “successful,” the main source of lead exposure for children in the U.S. is access to lead paint in homes built prior to the 1970s, according to Weinberger.

That was a time before legislation that limits the amount of lead allowable in household paint, he added.

In Central New York, more than 75 percent of housing was built prior to lead-safety legislation.

“We are not building enough affordable lead-free housing to replace the older housing stock. Although lead paint is an ‘equal opportunity toxin,’ a disproportionate number of cases of lead poisoning occurs in children who live in poverty. Thus, despite all our success, we must continue our efforts at primary prevention,” Weinberger said.

The state Health Department mandates blood-lead testing of all children at one and two years of age.

Upstate’s Central/Eastern New York Lead Poisoning Resource Center provides medical consultation for physicians and nurses when children are found to have elevated blood-lead levels. A number of children require hospital treatment when blood-lead tests reach “dangerous levels.”

“We offer treatment protocols to allow these children to be treated in their local community hospitals whenever possible,” Weinberger said.

 

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Maureen Butler, the center’s coordinator since its inception, says the center “works hard” to educate families and health-care providers about the hazards of lead exposure in young children.

“Any amount of lead is toxic and the damage lead causes is irreversible. We have seen progress in reducing the number of children with very elevated blood lead levels, but too many children remain at risk. The housing in our service area is among the oldest in the United States and is the main source of exposure. We must continue our efforts until every child lives in lead safe housing,” Butler said in the Upstate news release.

Dr. Travis Hobart, assistant professor of pediatrics and public health and preventive medicine, at Upstate Medical, expressed gratitude for the support.

“In the Syracuse area, one in 10 children have elevated lead levels, putting these children at high risk for school and behavior problems in the long run. We have already begun to forge new relationships with community organizations, as outlined by the grant, and we are excited about the broad coalition of stakeholders working to strengthen our prevention efforts in Central New York,” Hobart said.

Established in 1994, the Central/Eastern New York Lead Poisoning Resource Center at Upstate provides lead-exposure education, particularly in children younger than six years of age.

It also offers medical-management recommendations for children with “seriously elevated” blood-lead levels, and support of primary-prevention activities throughout the 31-county region.

Albany Medical Center assists in outreach efforts in the eastern part of New York, Upstate Medical said.

Contact Reinhardt at ereinhardt@cnybj.com