Central New York, Environment, Government, Health, Politics, Poverty, Public Safety, Syracuse, Transportation

I-81 Plans Bring New Concerns About Exposure to Lead

TNT works to educate city residents on the prevalence of lead in houses built before 1978. © 2018 Natalie Maier

Click play to hear why a local lead task force member is worried about more than just old housing.

Audio Transcript: Maier – Lead on Syracuse’s Bridges

By Natalie Maier SYRACUSE, N.Y. (NCC News) – Plans to renovate Interstate Route 81 have been the topic of conversation for over six months now. But local safety activists have concerns about lead on the existing infrastructure, and how it’s already affecting city residents.

Jaime Howley, a task force member for Tomorrow’s Neighborhood Today, said many of the old bridges around the city were painted with lead paint. As infrastructure continues to deteriorate, Howley said the lead chips or turns to dust, which can then be inhaled.

“Lead was in gasoline until 1992, so all of the lead exhaust spewed lead all over. So, lead is all around us,” Howley said.

Once lead enters the bloodstream, it can cause learning disabilities, deafness, and other chronic illnesses. According to Howley, Syracuse has one of the worst rates of lead poisoning in the country – even worse than Flint, Michigan.

Candidate for Lieutenant Governor Jumaane Williams shares Howley’s concerns. A city council member in Brooklyn, he made the drive to Syracuse on Saturday to attend TNT’s “Get Lead Out” block party on Salina Street. Williams has worked to pass lead legislation in his own district, and wants to help do the same for cities like Syracuse that still see high blood lead levels in children.

While Saturday’s event focused mostly on lead in housing, Howley is concerned about lead on local bridges as more time passes without reconstruction of I-81.

Gene Cilento, spokesperson for the state department of transportation, said in a statement: “We do have many bridges that were built prior to 1978 that are still around.  And lead paint was used to protect the steel.”

For now, local organizations like TNT continue to spread awareness and encourage blood tests.