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Syracuse resource center awarded $1.25 million grant to fund lead poisoning education programs

Wasim Ahmad | Staff Photographer

While the Syracuse Lead Hazard Control Program was shut down near the beginning of 2016, other organizations such as the Central/Eastern New York Lead Poisoning Resource Center continue to operate in the city.

A Syracuse-based medical resource center that combats lead poisoning was recently awarded a $1.25 million state grant to continue operating.

Syracuse is known to have a high number of childhood lead poisoning cases. The New York State Department of Health gave the grant to Upstate Medical University’s Central/Eastern New York Lead Poisoning Resource Center.

The five-year grant will help the center cover its expenses between 2017 and 2021 on lead education outreach programs with health care providers and health departments in the central and eastern New York regions.

The lead center’s coverage includes 31 counties across the state, including Onondaga County.

“People who are impoverished are at much higher risk of lead poisoning than those who have more economic resources,” said Travis Hobart, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Upstate, in an email. “They are more likely to live in houses that have exposed lead paint.”

Lead can cause fatal health problems after building up in the body. It can be found in wall paint and rusty boxes and also in old toys.

Young children are particularly vulnerable to lead paint exposure because their bodies are still developing. Hobart said about 12 percent of Syracuse children have a blood lead level above 5 mcg/dL, which is the level of concern according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Toddlers are at highest risk for lead poisoning, because they often put their hands on the floor (where they pick up lead dust and paint chips) and then put their hands in their mouths (and ingest the lead),” Hobart said.

Lead, once entering the body in large amounts, can eventually cause brain damage, nervous system disorders, lower IQ and can physically impair individuals.

Children who have elevated blood lead levels at a young age are more likely to have learning and behavior problems later in life, Hobart said.

There is a way to diagnose lead poisoning — a blood test. A blood test reveals details about the percentage of lead in the blood. Under New York state law, every child at the age of one and two needs to get a lead test done.

The Syracuse lead center at Upstate talks to local pediatricians and doctors regularly and encourages them to test children in their offices or at local laboratories, Hobart said.

Hobart added that the resource center helps care for children who have elevated lead levels, particularly those with levels above 15 mcg/dL.

“We advise the children’s doctors on when to test for lead and how to treat children with elevated levels,” Hobart said. “For children with levels above 45 mcg/dL, we provide guidance to the physicians who treat them in the hospital.”

One Onondaga County official said the government is looking forward to its continuing work with the resource center.

“While the incidence of childhood lead poisoning has steadily declined over the past decade, childhood lead poisoning prevention continues to be a focus of our public health activities,” said Indu Gupta, the county’s health commissioner, in a statement to The Daily Orange.

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