A $1 million grant awarded to the Utica Municipal Housing Authority is exactly the kind of investment needed in the city’s ongoing campaign to rid its old housing stock of poisons that are threatening its children.
Utica was one of 20 public housing agencies across the country awarded funding through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Lead-Based Paint Capital Fund Program. It’s one more weapon in an arsenal being used to help reduce childhood lead-poisoning numbers that are considered to be among the highest in the state.
This campaign began several years ago and since that time community leaders have been relentless in making sure investments are made to continue the fight. It got a hefty kickstart several years ago when the Community Foundation of Herkimer and Oneida Counties pledged $1 million to establish the Lead-Free Mohawk Valley Coalition, headed by the foundation’s president and CEO, Alicia Dicks. Partners include the Oneida County Health Department, Herkimer County Public Health and Herkimer County HealthNet. This past April, the Foundation announced an investment of $5 million to support the Coalition’s work over the next decade.
In June, state Sen. Joseph Griffo secured $155,000 for the city to address childhood lead poisoning. Past state Department of Health reports show that among children younger than 6 tested in Oneida County, 2.4 percent had elevated levels of lead in their blood in 2012, the third highest rate upstate. In Herkimer County, 1 percent of children tested had elevated levels.
The latest federal grant was secured by the area’s federal representatives — U.S. Rep. Claudia Tenney and U.S. Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles Schumer. Robert Calli, MHA executive director, said the funding will be used to identify and eliminate lead-based hazards in Adrean Terrace, N.D. Peters Manor and F.X. Matt Apartments, the housing authority’s three oldest developments.
“Any time that you have units or developments that were built prior to 1978, it’s certainly an issue,” Calli said. “In light of the fact that (Adrean Terrace, N.D. Peters Manor and F.X. Matt Apartments) date back to the late ’30s and ’40s, it’s something that we need to ensure does not manifest itself in terms of creating health-related problems in people, especially children.”
Fortunately, the MHA has had “very few” reported cases of lead-related issues pertaining to the agency’s units, Calli said.
Lead paint was banned in 1978 but remains prevalent in older housing. And since toddlers have a tendency to put everything in their mouths, they may swallow it in the form of house dust or old paint chips.
Lead also can be found in contaminated soil and water, or in imported products, such as toys, pottery and jewelry.
Exposure to lead can have significant effect on children over the long haul, research shows. Even low levels have been shown to affect IQ, ability to pay attention, academic achievement and behavior. Exposure also can lead to physical ailments such as abdominal pain, colic, constipation, anemia and even seizures. And all that can result in other community troubles, including high rates of crime, which have been linked to lead poisoning.
The ultimate goal of the Coalition is to eradicate childhood lead poisoning by 2030. Hopefully ongoing investment can help wrap it up before then.