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Memorandum of Support

Empire Justice Memo of Support - Establish the Childhood Lead Poisoning Primary Prevention and Safe Housing Act

Amends sections of the Public Health Law, the State Finance Law, and the Tax Law to Establish the Childhood Lead Poisoning Primary Prevention and Safe Housing Act


Under the current Public Health Law in New York State there is no requirement to inspect a building for lead-paint hazards until a child has already been poisoned, even though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and health policy researchers universally acknowledge the importance of establishing “primary prevention” strategies to locate lead hazards before a child is poisoned. The current approach, in effect, requires that a child suffer permanent brain and nerve damage before the hazard in a building will be identified and removed. It is not necessary to inspect every building in New York State in order to eliminate lead poisoning. It is now possible to identify the areas of highest risk and focus resources on inspecting the buildings in those areas.

This bill will require that primary prevention plans be put into place to ensure that the highest risk areas of the state are inspected for lead-paint hazards. The bill additionally addresses a serious shortcoming of the state’s “secondary prevention” policy, namely that the intervention level used in New York (20 ųg/dl) is two times greater than the minimum level of concern recognized by the CDC. This bill drops the intervention level to 10 ųg/dl, bringing New York’s minimum level of concern in line with the CDC.

Finally, the bill provides financial assistance to owners in the form of limited tax credits and low interest loans to remove lead-paint hazards.


Although in most areas of the state there has been a significant drop in lead poisoning cases over the last three decades, there are still pockets remaining in areas across the state (mostly in low-income urban areas but also in older rural villages) where the lead poisoning rates may be ten or more times the state average. Some city neighborhoods still suffer lead poisoning rates over 25 to 30%, levels that would certainly be deemed a health emergency if they existed statewide.

The proposed legislation requires that the State Department of Health identify the thirty municipalities in the state (out of approximately 1009) with the greatest number of cases of lead poisoning. Through collaborations between local health and building officials, these “communities of concern” will prepare primary prevention plans designed to find lead-hazards in buildings before any child has been lead-poisoned, based on the age of the housing and the likelihood that the housing will contain a child under six or a pregnant woman. We believe that these 30 communities, although they comprise only 3% of the municipalities in the state, account for well over 70% of the cases of lead poisoning in the state. In addition, even within these municipalities, “geocoding” and mapping now make it possible to further improve the effectiveness of the prevention plans by identifying and targeting the inspections for specific neighborhoods that are the areas of highest risk.

With respect to the financial assistance available to owner-occupants and landlords who make their housing lead safe, the costs to the state are controlled by restricting the tax credit eligibility to owner-occupants whose incomes do not exceed the household area median family income, and to landlords whose rental units do not exceed the federally set area “fair market rent.”


In addition to the direct impact on the children poisoned by lead, there is a severe impact upon older cities and urban neighborhoods. Out of the 36 zip codes identified by the state in 2001, nine were in Buffalo; six were in Rochester; five were in Syracuse; and five were in Albany. Lead poisoning has had a devastating social and economic impact upon these cities, imposing overwhelming burdens on their schools and criminal justice systems. Indeed, even if the state were to reduce the poisoning rate in a city the size of Rochester to 500 children per year that would still mean that over the twelve years a child takes to go through school, there would be at least 6,000 children in the school system who are permanently diminished in their intellectual capacity and exhibiting aggressive and distracting behaviors.

Minority children in particular continue to be most directly in harm’s way. According to the 2000 census data, the 36 high-risk areas identified by the state are home to over 91% of the Black children under age 5 of the city of Buffalo; over 87% of those in Albany; nearly 80% of those in Rochester and over 65% of those in Syracuse.  Almost unbelievably, over 33% of ALL of the Black children under age five in New York State (outside of New York City) lived in one of the 36 zip codes identified by the Department of Health as a high incidence rate zip code. The numbers are nearly as high for Latino children.

We urge you to support passage of this legislation to ensure that all of New York’s children are able to live in a safe lead free environment.