OSWEGO — Local health officials are hustling to adjust their enforcement and monitoring techniques to measure lead in residential and public spaces after the state Health Department adopted new guidelines in May regarding lead contamination.

New York state law requires local health officials to intervene if someone is found to have high concentrations of lead in their blood. In May, the New York State Department of Health adopted an increase to the lead-blood concentration threshold at which state intervention is required — from 10 to 5 micrograms per deciliter of blood. The measure will go into effect on Oct. 9.

“A child with a level of 5 is considered the same as a child with a level of 15,” said Judy Grandy, the county health department’s director of environmental health. “They get full services starting in October according to the law.”

In New York state, lowering blood lead level markers increases the annual number of children who require intervention — from 3,000 to 18,200 — and the number of properties that need remediation. State health officials estimate the cost of interventions to be $713 per child and property remediation from $600 to $10,000.

However, Oswego County’s health department officials say they are “on their own” in terms of developing a process for implementation and the resources to conduct the increase in interventions.

“The problem is, the state has not given us any guidance,” Grandy said. “They are reluctant to answer any of our questions.”

The Oswego County Health Department, officials said, in October will work with primary health care providers to make “reasonable efforts to ensure the provision of risk reduction and education and nutritional counseling for each child which an elevated blood lead level equal to or greater than 5 micrograms per deciliter of whole blood,” and intervene if these requirements are not met.

“For each child who has confirmed blood lead level equal to or greater than 5 micrograms per deciliter of whole blood, primary health care providers shall provide or make reasonable efforts to ensure the provision of a complete diagnostic evaluation,” the law states.

The state-mandated “diagnostic evaluation” includes medical treatment and “referral to the appropriate local or state health unit for environmental management.” Diagnostic evaluation includes a “minimum of a detailed lead exposure assessment, a nutritional assessment including iron status and a development screening.”

Measures for risk prevention and intervention include completing an evaluation of the afflicted patient, providing blood testing and performing medical treatment, according to the state Department of Health’s amended law.

Health experts say lead can cause irreversible brain damage, especially in children, whose brains are still developing. Population studies by the FBI indicate a correlation between ingesting lead and criminal activity, jail time and decreased in graduation rates.

Before the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lowered the acceptable blood-lead level from 40 to 10 micrograms per deciliter, violent crimes were above 700 per 100,000 people. But within two decades the number of violent crimes per 100,000 decreased to 320. 

Grandy said these correlations are due to lead’s ability to stunt development in the part of the brain associated with decision-making and impulse control. The end result, she said, is greater long-term costs in public assistance and incarceration for those afflicted by lead contamination.

“As lead deteriorates in the paint, it starts to get chalky and creates dust, and that is a big cause when the window is open and the dust is blowing off the window sill,” she said. “Between the ages of 1 and 5, the first thing they do is put everything in their mouth… It’s going from surfaces to their mouths.”

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