Tight New York Budget Doomed Lead Poisoning Prevention Bills

ALBANY, New York, October 17, 2008 (ENS) - New York Governor David Paterson Thursday vetoed bills that would have established a childhood lead poisoning primary prevention and safe housing fund and also given a corporate tax credit for lead hazard reduction activities.

The two bills would have cost approximately $50 million over a two year period, which critics said would have had an enormous, unfunded and unplanned impact on the state's stressed finances.

The governor said it was, in fact, the tight budget situation that made it necessary for him to veto measures that would protect children from lead poisoning, a cause he says has been important to him for years.

"Over the last several months, I have been compelled to disapprove many bills as a direct consequence of the state's fiscal crisis," said Paterson. "A great number of those proposals were very worthy initiatives of great importance to legislators and their constituents. However, no bill pains me more to veto than this measure."

"Lead poisoning is a scourge that has plagued and destroyed the lives of too many children, the vast majority of whom live lives deprived in too many ways," he said. "I have been a vocal proponent for addressing this issue for more than two decades. Responding to this plague is and should be an obligation for everyone in government."

Exposure to lead can happen from breathing workplace air or dust, eating contaminated foods, or drinking contaminated water. Children can be exposed from eating lead-based paint chips or playing in contaminated soil. Lead can damage the human nervous system, kidneys, and reproductive system. Lead in paint was banned in 1978, but older buildings still contain lead-based paint.

The governor pledged to work with this bill's sponsors to achieve their objectives in less costly ways and promised to make such a proposal in the Executive Budget which will be presented on December 18.

Paterson said he is considering:

  • Revising regulations so that comprehensive follow-up interventions for children will be triggered when a child has a blood lead level of 15 micrograms per deciliter (mcg/dL) instead of the current level of 20 mcg/dL. The Department of Health will also review available scientific research and data to determine if the state should further revise the threshold for comprehensive interventions to 10 mcg/dL.
  • Resubmitting a Department of Health legislative proposal that would link the statewide immunization registry and the statewide registry of children with elevated blood lead levels, promoting timely lead screening by practitioners and improving the state health agency's ability to survey screening rates.
  • Reviewing the results of the evaluation of the Childhood Lead Primary Prevention Program, which are expected by the end of the year. These results will help identify effective local policies and practices, which should be of value in designing future local lead poisoning prevention efforts. In addition, the governor will propose a statutory change to make sure that the program, now known as a pilot program, is permanent.

Today, under the Childhood Lead Primary Prevention Program, the state Department of Health requires screening of children for lead poisoning, and follow-up testing, risk reduction education and nutritional counseling for each child with blood lead levels of 10 mcg/dL or greater.

Each child with a blood lead level of 20 mcg/dL or greater receives a complete diagnostic evaluation, including a detailed lead exposure assessment, nutritional assessment, and developmental screening, followed by a referral to the appropriate local or state health unit for comprehensive follow-up interventions, including environmental inspection and control of lead hazards.

The agency maintains a statewide registry of children with elevated blood lead levels.

The program requires coordination with local and federal agencies in lead poisoning prevention, detection and risk reduction activities as well as public education and community outreach programs.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reduced the allowable concentration of lead in the air by a factor of ten. The revised standards are expected to improve health protection for at-risk groups, especially children, although questions have been raised about the adequacy of monitoring by state air quality agencies and Democratic members of Congress.

Nationwide, the EPA says, 849 children are poisoned by lead each day.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2008. All rights reserved.

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