Lead Poisoning in Syracuse

Addressing Housing as Healthcare in Central New York

Despite the progress public health officials have made in protecting children from lead poisoning and the irreversible neurological damage it can cause, Central New York currently faces an emerging public health crisis. 

Syracuse, where lead exposure rates remain high with particularly damaging impacts for children of color, is the epicenter of this crisis. Low-income children living in unsafe homes with lead paint are the primary victims.

The threat of lead exposure is a stark reminder that housing is healthcare, and the quality of a person’s home is a crucial social determinant of their health and wellbeing. Particularly after a year when many of us were confined to our homes far more than usual due to the pandemic, it is critical we recognize how vital safe and lead-free housing is to children’s healthcare.

Ninety percent of housing stock in Syracuse was built prior to 1978 — the year lead paint was federally banned by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. The city ranks among the 15 regions in the country with the highest rates of childhood lead poisoning. In 2019, roughly 500 children in the city of Syracuse were found to have elevated blood lead levels.

The patterns are consistent and the impacts are severe. After lead exposure, a child’s developmental path is permanently altered, with lead’s effect quickly taking hold. Lead poisoning can cause anemia, stomach pain, constipation and gastrointestinal symptoms, and points to a growing body of evidence suggesting lead as a trigger for high blood pressure and heart problems as adults.

Setting our sights on recovery and improving the long term health of our communities in Central New York, we must address the root cause of this crisis with efforts that address the crucial social determinant of housing. 

Recognizing such local efforts, Mother Cabrini Health Foundation granted $300,000 to the Central New York Community Foundation to remediate and replace lead paint-ridden exterior doors and windows in Syracuse rental units.

We must continue to address the dangerous impacts of lead poisoning on vulnerable communities across New York State. Learn more about Central New York Community Foundation’s LeadSafeCNY program on their website here.