A new Reuters report finds severe lead poisoning in Buffalo is worse than Flint, Michigan. At the same time, President Trump proposes to cut programs that would remove the dangerous metal.
What’s the story?
Buffalo’s environmental challenges are in many ways similar to what Flint faces. Old houses were built with lead paint and lead pipes and nearly 60% of Buffalo homes were built before 1940. Because of widespread poverty (close to 40% of Buffalo residents are below the poverty lines), those houses are neglected and deteriorate. Paint peels, pipes contaminate water, and the dust ends up in the blood of children.
Lead poisoning then imperils children’s lives. Even in low levels, it can cause learning problems, slower growth, and a whole malady of other issues. At higher concentrations, lead can be fatal.
And Buffalo faces severe issues: in 17 zip codes around the city, there’s more than double the rate of children with elevated lead levels compared to Flint.
“Nobody’s talking about Buffalo as ground zero for the lead problem, but when it comes to the levels of lead that’s been identified in children, it’s higher than what you see in Flint,” said Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz.
Help was on the way. Now?
Remediation efforts funded by the federal government have made a difference. They fund testing, education, and cleanup programs, and Buffalo has seen the benefits. Between 2007 and 2014, the percent of children with high levels of lead in the three worst zip codes dropped by more than 40%.
Trump’s budget would slash those programs. The Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Environmental Protection Agency would lose $4.7 billion from their programs to improve housing and cleanup lead. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also face big budget cuts. Experts say those cuts could be catastrophic:
“We are dooming future generations,” said Dr. Gale Burstein, health commissioner in Erie County. “Exposure to high lead levels causes brain damage to kids, learning disabilities and behavioral challenges.”
“I think you’re going to see more children, not fewer children, exposed to lead,” said Senator Jack Reed, a Democrat [from Rhode Island] who has sought more funding for lead-abatement programs on the Senate subcommittee that funds HUD.
Buffalo isn’t alone
New York City has also faced issues with lead in the water at public schools. Hoosick Falls, a town northeast of Albany (almost at the Vermont border), has also been suffering widespread drinking water contamination with serious effects. However, in Hoosick Falls, the problem has been industrial chemicals. In Buffalo, it’s literally people’s houses making them sick.
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