Lead contamination

Lead contamination in a home’s pipes and paint can be detrimental to health. Pipes containing lead may erode and contaminate drinking water, and as lead deteriorates in paint, it can create dust and blow off the windowsill.

OSWEGO — Oswego County’s historical housing stock is one of the most attractive features to investors and homebuyers who are considering investing in local real estate or moving to the county. But it also puts property owners on guard for signs of lead contamination in their houses’ pipes and paint.

State and federal health guidelines governing exposure to lead have radically changed in the past century, as lead’s long-term health detriments came into view.

Service pipes containing lead that have been in operation for several years may erode and contaminate drinking water, public health officials warn local property owners, and exposure to lead can cause permanent brain damage and stunted growth, especially in young children.

Most recently, Gov. Andrew Cuomo approved a change to state health department regulations that lowered the blood-concentration threshold at which primary care doctors are required to intervene and notify public health officials to provide a full analysis of their patient’s living environment. The state’s lead-blood-concentration threshold decreased from 15 to 5 micrograms per deciliter this summer.

A lower threshold means there is now a greater number of rental and residential properties that could be subject to investigation. State health officials say mandates to remediate contaminated properties could encompass a wide range of renovations, estimated to cost between $600 and $10,000.

Oswego County homes are in particular focus for local and state health officials, since the majority of residential properties were built before the 1978 lead-paint ban. Of the county’s 53,656-home housing stock, 27,771 were built before 1970, most of which were built before 1940, according to a report from Cornell University.

Gov. Cuomo in July announced Oswego County should share in the $10 million in “lead service line replacement” funds, with roughly half a million dollars allocated to each municipality afflicted by high levels of lead. 

“Now, we have funding to address lead in our water lines, continue to upgrade our infrastructure and improve the health of our community,” Oswego Mayor Billy Barlow announced on Facebook.

“New York has invested unprecedented funding to protect drinking water quality including critical infrastructure projects that are underway across the state,” Cuomo said. “This next round of funding advances our commitment to helping municipalities upgrade outdated systems, helping improve health and keep our communities thriving.”

Oswego County Health Department officials are offering advice to homeowners who suspect their houses to contain dangerous levels of lead and tips for how to recognize the signs for residents who don’t know what to look for. The first place to start is knowing if your home was built before or after 1978’s lead-paint ban.

Judy Grandy, the county health department’s director of environmental health, said lead often gathers in the form of dust near windows and chipping pieces of wall. It can then be inhaled or, in the case of young children, consumed orally, Grandy said.

“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 windowsill,” she said. “Between the ages of 1 and 5, the first thing (kids) do is put everything in their mouth. It’s going from surfaces to their mouths.”

Removal and repair of lead-contaminated spaces must be done by EPA or state-approved experts from a firm that specializes in lead-safe renovations. These experts are required to be periodically recertified by the state, Grandy said.

Firms in Oswego County that specialize in lead-safe renovations include Bardan Construction Company, Bruce Construction and Bullseye Painting Inc., all located in the city of Oswego, and Home Restoration and Renovation Services in Phoenix.

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