Upstate News

March 24, 2008
Darryl Geddes 315 464-4828

SUNY Upstate wins $1 million grant to expand lead poisoning prevention center


SYRACUSE, N.Y. — SUNY Upstate Medical University has been awarded a $1 million grant from the state Health Department to expand its lead poisoning prevention program from 14 counties to 31 counties stretching east to Albany, north to the Canadian border and south to the Catskills.

Formerly known as the Central New York Lead Poisoning Prevention Center, the new Central/Eastern Lead Poisoning Prevention Center will serve a population of more than 3.2 million people, up from 1.6 million.

“We’re elated by the opportunity to serve so many people in such an important health issue,” said Howard Weinberger, M.D., a SUNY Upstate pediatrician, who serves as director of the expanded lead poisoning prevention center. “There is really no normal blood lead level, and even at very low levels, lead has the ability to impair cognitive functioning, especially in children.”

The Central/Eastern Lead Poisoning Prevention Center will continue to provide recommendations for the medical management of children with lead poisoning. A key mission of the center will be to work with healthcare providers to increase the lead poisoning screening rates for young children as well as pregnant women. In a stepped up outreach effort, the center staff will meet in person—or via videoconferening—with professional and community groups throughout the region to promote primary lead poisoning prevention activities.

The center also will reach out more extensively to landlords and contractors who own or work with older homes, a significant source of lead exposure for children. “This continues to be a key area of our efforts—reducing the exposure to lead where children live,” said Weinberger. “Peeling lead-based paint, especially in older properties remains one of the primary sources for lead poisoning in children along with dust and debris from the renovation of older buildings.”

When it served only 14 counties, the Lead Poisoning Resource Center handled on average 400 to 500 phone calls and information requests annually from healthcare providers, county lead program staff, parents and others seeking information on the medical management of lead poisoning in children and how to protect children from lead exposure.

Well-child checkups for babies, toddlers and preschoolers often include questions directed at parents about possible lead exposure. Doctors must conduct a simple blood test at ages one and two to screen for elevated blood lead levels.

Elevated blood lead levels can be treated with chelation therapy, which can require hospitalization. But Weinberger warns that treatment for lead poisoning must accompany the eradication of the means of exposure to lead. “Treatment is necessary in some cases, but the best remedy against lead poisoning is to prevent the exposure from occurring in the first place,” he said.

SUNY Upstate opened its Lead Poisoning Resource Center in 1994. With its expanded service area, the center will be assisted by Albany Medical Center in coordinating outreach efforts in the eastern part of the state.

In addition to Syracuse, New York’s only other lead poisoning resource centers are located in New York City and Buffalo.

In addition to Weinberger, Maureen Famiglietti, R.N., serves as center’s program coordinator.

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