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Lead testing van to help identify lead exposure in Syracuse

From left, Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon, Syracuse resident and lead advocate Oceanna Fair and Onondaga County Health Commissioner Dr. Katie Anderson stand in front of the new mobile lead testing van that will be used to help prevent lead poisoning in the county.
Ellen Abbott
From left, Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon, Debra Lewis, Lead Program Coordinator, and Onondaga County Health Commissioner Dr. Katie Anderson stand in front of the new mobile lead testing van that will be used to help prevent lead poisoning in the county.

A mobile lead testing van will soon be hitting the streets of Syracuse and Onondaga County, hoping to identify children who may have been exposed to lead.

For Oceanna Fair of Syracuse, advocating for lead poisoning prevention is a generational thing, starting with her older brother who was poisoned by lead at age two.

"I now have a 43-year-old who is practically an eight-year old, that I care for every day and have to bring assistance and to help me care for," Fair said. "Fast forward almost four decades later my granddaughter gets poisoned in my home. And so now she needs additional help at school."

As part of the Syracuse-based group Families for Lead Freedom Now, Fair is pleased Onondaga County is putting a mobile lead testing van on the road, and hopes to help get lead testing and education to families who need it.

"So whether it's backpack events, whether it's Head Start holding a family day, where we know we have those children of that age that need to be tested, getting those kids there, and getting them tested," Fair said.

The reasons for the crisis in Syracuse spring from an old housing stock, filled with dangerous lead paint, that leaves lead laden dust where children can easily ingest it. Getting tested is the key to finding pockets of dangerous housing, but there are myriad barriers to testing for many families, according to Onondaga County Health Commissioner Dr. Katie Anderson.

"It's a recommended test for children who are age one and two," Anderson said. "That said, it doesn't always get done. The offices don't always have the rapid test. And then there's also barriers in accessing primary care in our community, which we know. And we're working to address as well. So all of these come together, meaning that not all kids who need to be tested, get tested."

Officials hope this van reaches some of those families. Once high lead levels are found, Anderson said residents could need both health treatments and house work to reduce symptoms and exposure.

“They may require treatment," Anderson said. "But certainly the next step would be harm reduction, hazard reduction in the home and hazard mitigation."

There have been developments on the lead poisoning front. Onondaga County is also planning on hiring someone to coordinate all the lead reduction plans in the community. And state Attorney General Letita James this month sued a Syracuse landlord for violating lead safety laws.

Fair said the community though is only scratching the surface on this issue.

"Because when we look at the fact that we poison approximately 600 children per year, that is of the children tested," Fair said. "And they're not counting the children who we haven't reached who aren't tested."

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.