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To combat childhood lead poisoning, CNY Community Foundation pledges $2 million

Tom Magnarelli
WRVO Public Media
The Central New York Community Foundation makes an announcement at the Southwest Community Center.

The Central New York Community Foundation will spend $2 million over four years to help end childhood lead poisoning by making residences in Syracuse lead safe. The investments target new housing construction and existing home renovations.

The dangers for children posed by lead, comes from the flaking and peeling of lead paint used in older homes before it was banned 40 years ago. Kids might eat paint chips or inhale dust particles. CNY Community Foundation President and CEO Peter Dunn said lead poisoning can damage brain development and function as well as other physical problems.

“It undermines our other investments in early childhood education and college attainment," Dunn said. "It can affect all sorts of other social determinants of health. It can affect crime and violence, absenteeism, you name it. It’s one of those foundational type issues. In some parts of the city, a quarter of the kids are poisoned with lead. That’s a social injustice and really needs to be remedied.”

Credit Tom Magnarelli / WRVO Public Media
WRVO Public Media
A map of the elevated lead levels of kids in Syracuse.

The organization is targeting two areas of Syracuse with some of highest elevated blood lead levels in children. It is awarding grants to Home HeadQuarters to replace windows and doors, as well as Housing Visions to construct new affordable rental apartments. There is funding for the land bank to do lead testing and other funds for educating residents and landlords on lead poisoning and abatement solutions. Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh said while there has been a decline in lead poisioning in the community over the past six years, it is still at an unacceptable rate.

“I feel like we’ve been on this emotional rollercoaster where the data that we’re looking at is daunting, it’s overwhelming," Walsh said. "But it’s seeing all of our partners around the table, seeing the work you all are doing, seeing announcements like this, that makes me feel hopeful.”

Walsh said he is also working with the Syracuse Common Council to pass legislation that will allow code enforcement to test for lead paint hazards. 

Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York.