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Local lead levels drop, but risks to children remain 

The number of young children with elevated blood lead levels in Monroe County has dropped slightly, according to the latest numbers from the public health department.

The percentage of children younger than 6 who tested positive for elevated blood levels last year was 1.14 percent, down a fraction of a percent from 2017.

The data show that children living in the city – many of them children of color – are at a much higher risk of lead poisoning than others, says Mel Callan, who chairs the nonprofit advocacy group Coalition to Prevent Lead Poisoning. Of the 15 children with the highest blood lead levels, all but one lived in the city.

There's no safe level of lead in the blood, Callan says, but the higher the level, the greater the potential problems. "There's a greater risk of reduction in IQ, behavior problems, inability to focus," she says. "And a lot of these results can lead to juvenile delinquency, poor decision-making, and inability to learn."

Most of the risk of lead poisoning in Monroe County comes from the housing stock, Callan says, and the city has a large number of homes built before lead paint was outlawed. Old paint flakes off and ends up on the floor or other surfaces.

Monroe County and the City of Rochester have made great strides toward reducing this risk, says Callan. City inspections of rental properties include tests for lead paint, for example. The proportion of children younger than 6 who had elevated blood lead levels was more than twice as high a decade ago as it is now.

Still, Callan said, there's more work to do. "We seem to have plateaued," she said.

Brett Dahlberg is a reporter with WXXI News.

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