Governor Paterson Establishes Task Force to Prevent Childhood Lead Poisoning

State Health Department Report Finds 17 Percent Decline in Childhood Lead Poisoning; Task Force Charged with Developing Strategy to Prevent Childhood Exposure to Lead

Increased Funding of $2.5 Million to Fight Lead Poisoning in 2009-10 Budget

ALBANY, N.Y. (June 2, 2009) – Governor David A. Paterson today announced the issuance of an Executive Order to establish the Governor's Task Force on the Prevention of Childhood Lead Poisoning to further the State's efforts to eliminate childhood lead poisoning in New York State. Lead continues to be the leading environmental poison of young children in New York State. The creation of the Task Force, together with the dedication of additional funding to support targeted prevention efforts, demonstrates the Governor's continued commitment to forever eliminate childhood lead poisoning in the State.

Although a new Department of Health (DOH) report released today for 2006-07 shows that childhood lead poisoning fell by 17 percent in upstate New York since 2005, lead poisoning remains a serious problem for thousands of children living in older housing with lead-based paint. The Governor's Task Force will bring together a number of State agencies to make findings and recommendation for the development and implementation of a coordinated statewide strategy to reduce childhood exposure to lead. In carrying out its duties, the Task Force will consult with a variety of stakeholders, including advocacy groups for the environment, children's welfare and health care, which have been instrumental in focusing attention on and seeking solutions to the problem of childhood lead poisoning.

"Lead poisoning can have severe and irreversible consequences for childhood growth and development, and most lead poisoning is due to children swallowing, or breathing in dust from old lead-based paint," said State Health Commissioner Richard F. Daines, M.D. "New York has made significant progress in the prevention of childhood lead poisoning, but we can't let up. We can do much more to reduce childhood lead poisoning, and I applaud the Governor's foresight and commitment in creating this Task Force."

By creating the Task Force and increasing prevention funding to a total of $15.6 million over the last three years the Governor is continuing his commitment to eliminate childhood lead poisoning in the state.

"In the past, the State's approach to lead poisoning focused on screening and testing children for lead poisoning, and then providing treatment to those with elevated blood lead levels. These are vital components of the State's public health efforts, but it is critical to prevent children from becoming poisoned in the first place," said Governor Paterson. "Increases in funding over the last few years – including in this year's budget – have allowed the State to target lead poisoning prevention activities to communities where children face the greatest risk of exposure to lead-based paint. This new Task Force will advance an even more aggressive prevention strategy, moving us closer to the goal of eradicating childhood lead poisoning in New York."

Findings from the Eliminating Childhood Lead Poisoning In New York State: 2006-07 Surveillance Report show that testing for blood lead levels in children has increased during the last two years and that the number of children receiving two or more tests for lead by age 3 increased 62 percent since 2001. The report also found that just eight counties account for 66 percent of all new cases of childhood lead poisoning outside New York City – Albany, Erie, Monroe, Nassau, Oneida, Onondaga, Orange, and Westchester.

Most homes built before 1978 have lead-based paint, when paint peels, cracks, or is worn down, the chips and dust from the old lead paint can spread onto floors, windowsills and all around the home. Lead-based paint dust can then get onto children's hands and toys, and into their mouths. The New York State Public Health Law requires all health care providers to test all children for blood lead levels at age 1 and again at age 2. In addition, health care providers are also required to evaluate all children 6 months to 6 years of age for risk of lead exposure each year as part of routine care. Health care providers also are required to test those children found to be at risk for lead exposure.

Over the last two years, the Childhood Lead Poisoning Primary Prevention Pilot Program has been implemented, allowing the State, for the first time, to target lead poisoning prevention activities to communities where children face the greatest risk of exposure to lead-based paint. The program was first implemented as a pilot in eight target communities in Albany, Erie, Monroe, Oneida, Onondaga, Orange, and Westchester counties and in New York City. This year, the program began operating in Schenectady, Dutchess, Broome, and Chautauqua counties and is now a permanent program.

The Governor's Executive Budget for 2009-10 proposed additional funding for the program, and the enacted budget included an additional $2.5 million. This brings the State's total investment for childhood lead poisoning prevention to $15.6 million over a three-year period. With these additional funds, the State will further expand primary prevention efforts to include communities in counties that collectively account for 90 percent of childhood lead poisoning cases.

The Task Force is charged with: leveraging available state resources for prevention activities to reduce childhood lead exposure; developing federal, state and local government partnerships; consulting with stakeholders such as advocacy organizations, scientific and academic institutions, and professional medical associations; and focusing on housing to address lead hazards. The Task Force will issue an initial report to the Governor by Nov. 30, 2009 and a final report by Nov. 30, 2010.

Valerie Grey, First Deputy Secretary to the Governor, will serve as Chair of the Task Force. The Task Force will also include the Governor's Deputy Secretary for Health and Human Services, who will serve as Vice-Chair, the Governor's Deputy Secretaries for the Environment, Economic Development and Housing, Labor and Financial Regulation, and Energy, the Counsel to the Governor, and representatives from the following State agencies: the Department of Health; the Division of Housing and Community Renewal; the Housing Finance Agency; the Department of State; the Department of Environmental Conservation; the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance; the Office of Children and Family Services; the Council on Children and Families; the Insurance Department; the Department of Taxation and Finance; the Department of Labor; the Empire State Development Corporation and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.

Highlights from the Lead Poisoning 2006-07 Surveillance Report

  • The incidence of elevated blood lead levels among children under age 6 is steadily declining. In 2007, 1,901 children less than 6 years of age in New York State, excluding New York City, were newly identified with blood lead levels greater than or equal to 10 micrograms per deciliter, the current definition of lead poisoning, compared with 5,198 children reported in 1998, a 63 percent decline.
  • The rate of new cases of lead poisoning among children under age six years declined by 68 percent over the same time period, from 29 cases per 1,000 children tested in 1998 to 9.2 cases per 1,000 children tested in 2007. Similar declines have been noted in New York City.
  • Lead testing rates for children improved at all ages. The percent of children tested for lead at age 1 increased from 50 percent of children born in 1998 to 60 percent of children born in 2004. The percent of children who received at least two tests by age 3 increased from 27 percent of children born in 1998, to 41 percent of children born in 2004.
  • The numbers of children with blood lead levels of 5-9 micrograms per deciliter are also declining. 20,343 children under the age of 6 had blood lead levels of 5 - 9 micrograms per deciliter in 2007, compared with 35,850 children in 1998, a 57 percent decline over this period.

In addition to creating the Task Force, the Governor has taken additional actions to address childhood lead poisoning:

  • Legislation proposed by the Governor in his 2009-10 Executive Budget and included in the enacted budget made the Childhood Lead Poisoning Primary Prevention Pilot Program permanent. The Budget included an additional $2.5 million for the program, allowing expansion of the program to communities in those counties considered to be at high risk for lead poisoning.
  • Legislation included in the Executive Budget and approved by the Legislature in this year's budget links the statewide immunization registry and the statewide registry of children's blood lead levels, promoting improved lead testing of children by practitioners and improving DOH's ability to survey testing rates. 
  • DOH revised its regulations so that comprehensive follow-up environmental interventions for children are triggered when a child has a blood lead level of 15 micrograms per deciliter (mcg/dL) or higher, instead of the previous level of 20 micrograms per deciliter.

More information on preventing childhood lead poisoning and the DOH report are available on DOH's website at www.nyhealth.gov/environmental/lead/.

Expressions of Support from Public Health Advocacy Orgranizations

  • Michael Hanley, Senior Attorney with the Empire Justice Center, Rochester Office, said: "The creation of the Interagency Task Force today by Governor Paterson takes a critical step toward protecting the children who live in the predominantly low income and minority neighborhoods where lead poisoning rates remain disturbingly high. We know from many studies on the subject, that targeting the state's resources through this type of coordination will ultimately save hundreds of millions of dollars in reduced educational, criminal justice, and medical expenses and will increase revenues by increasing the earning capacity of the children we protect."

    Empire Justice is a statewide legal services organization that provides training and technical assistance, policy analysis and advocacy, and legal representation to low income New Yorkers in civil rights, housing and a wide range of other poverty law areas.

  • Henry Schaeffer, MD, President of the American Academy of Pediatrics, District II, said: "Pediatricians across New York applaud Governor Paterson's Executive Order creating an Interagency Task Force on the Prevention of Childhood Lead Poisoning. We look forward to working with Health Commissioner Daines and Commissioner VanAmerongen, of the Department of Housing and Community Renewal, and their staffs in a targeted but statewide effort to help pediatricians and families eradicate lead poisoning in all New York State communities. The children in New York deserve lead free living and learning environments to grow and develop to their full potential. Working together, we can make lead poisoning a thing of the past."

  • David T. Hannan, MD, MPA, President of the Medical Society of the State of New York (MSSNY), said: "Lead poisoning in children is a devastating issue that must be addressed. Governor David Paterson has taken the initiative in issuing an executive order to create an Interagency Task Force on the Prevention of Childhood Lead Poisoning, an action that the Medical Society applauds as an important step in identifying the scope of the problem. We must begin to take steps to address this very serious problem. Fetal injuries from lead poisoning can occur if women have elevated blood levels during pregnancy. Many cases of lead toxicity have been identified by screening and we need the Task Force to make recommendations regarding prevention. MSSNY will be happy to work with the Task Force on prevention of childhood lead poisoning. Governor Paterson has recognized the severity of lead poisoning in children and has acted to prevent it. The Medical Society of the State of New York applauds his efforts."

  • Cordell Cleare, chair of the New York City Coalition to End Lead Poisoning, said: "Nearly four decades ago when the State Legislature enacted New York's first lead poisoning prevention law, it recognized that 'Lead poisoning is a disease which will require the concerted efforts of public health agencies and other agencies concerned with the availability of healthful housing for the people of our state before the disease can be brought under control and its incidence reduced.' Governor Paterson's bold action today will finally bring to bear the coordination of state agencies that has been so long overdue."

  • David Broadbent, MD, MPH, co-chair of the Coalition to End Lead Poisoning in New York State and a member of the Governor's Advisory Council on Childhood Lead Poisoning, said: "The Coalition to End Lead Poisoning in New York State is encouraged that the number of newly lead poisoned children in the state continues to decline and that the Governor is focusing on creative ways to eradicate this pernicious problem."

  • Russ Haven, Legislative Counsel for the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG), said: "The lead poisoning problem cuts across many lines, including housing, health, education, juvenile and criminal justice, the environment and economic development—and that's why we need a multi-agency, multi-disciplinary approach. Governor Paterson's creation of childhood lead poisoning prevention task force promises to open a new front in the battle against childhood lead poisoning, tapping the synergies from the collective action of state agencies and authorities to end this epidemic."

  • Martha Pofit, Executive Director of the New York State Public Health Association, said: "The New York State Public Health Association applauds the Governor for taking the next step in mounting a full-fledged attack on lead poisoning. When coupled with investments in the Administration's budget, the creation of the Inter-Agency Task Force will go a long way in reducing lead poisoning for children, seniors and families living in poverty. Public health professionals throughout New York State welcome this opportunity to partner with the government in achieving a measurable reduction in lead poisoning statewide."