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Advocates hope officials will consider health ramifications before tearing down I-81 viaduct

As state, federal and local lawmakers turned some dirt for a ceremonial groundbreaking last week, lead poisoning prevention advocates hoped Gov. Kathy Hochul would catch sight of their signs, calling for the state to consider the health ramifications of the $2.25 billion project.

Among them was Paul Ciaverri, who works with the group Families for Lead Freedom Now. His message for the governor?

“Asking for heightened protocols from DOT about health needs, concerns that the residents are going to have during the project, and also making sure that the workers, many of whom will be local hires, have the highest protections from a lead, and asbestos, and silica, and dangerous falls,” Ciaverri said.

According to the latest figures, about 12% of children tested show heightened levels of lead in their blood. Ciaverri is concerned that number could rise with the viaduct’s demolition.

"This bridge being the age it is, that paint on that bridge is probably 50% lead,” he said. “And so how you take it down with all the chips there? If it's not that carefully done, dust could spread to the soil here and it would poison the kids.”

Hochul said she promises to hold the Department of Transportation to the highest standards when it comes to the safety of the neighborhood and workers.

"They'll exceed the requirements of the federal government and the state government, that are in place right now to make sure that we protect this community from any fallout from lead or other particulates that could be in the area after the viaducts coming down,” Hochul said. “So this is going to be done the right way."

Advocates say families in the neighborhood of the viaduct have already lived for years with the worst air pollution in the city because of the high traffic volume on the interstate.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.