Boilermaker Blog

Gettin’ The Lead Out


I think that Flint Michigan and Utica were –twins who were separated at birth.
Both are communities that have seen the exodus of a major employer (Flint GM, Utica GE) signaling a major economic slowdown.
In the 60’s Flint had a population of 200,000, Utica 120,000: today Flint 99,000, Utica 64,000.
And how about the Charles Stuart Mott Foundation is located in Flint. Mott was the largest shareholder of General Motors stock and Flint Mayor 1912-13, 1918: he moved to Flint from….Utica!
The final similarity is one that recently has hit the national news, at least for Flint, its lead.
The city decided, for cost savings, to convert the water system to draw from the Flint River. Apparently the water from the Flint River is more acidic causing lead to leech from the pipe system into the drinking water.
Flint’s experience with lead was like Hurricane Katrina: massive and relatively quick.
Utica’s problems with lead have been more subtle and insidious perhaps making it that much more deadly.
Flint folks have ended up drinking lead, some of ours, unfortunately, have been breathing it.
Lead’s invasion into our community has come by way of lead-based paints that were common for decades. While lead-based paints were banned in 1978 much of our housing stock certainly predates that.
I’m assuming that the piping in Flint is similarly old as we are both old communities.
Contrary to popular belief the concerning paint, the most dangerous issues are not children ingesting paint chips (that’s very bad too) but the paint becoming airborne and inhaled. Windows and doors rubbing releasing the paint are primary culprits.
Lead poisoned children cause a huge cost burden on a community costing hundreds of thousands of dollars per individual of the course of their life. Lead is particularly dangerous to kids under the age of 6 as it can severely affect brain development.
For whatever reason Oneida County has the largest lead exposure via paint than any other county in New York (I have no idea the measurement tools or criteria).
I do know lead has been (and continues to be) a major focus of the Oneida County Department of Health.
The Community Foundation of Oneida and Herkimer County last week stepped forward with a commitment of 1.1 million dollars to begin to help with the eradication of the various sources of lead. This will likely be just a small down payment for the final total cost as lead abatement is neither easy nor inexpensive.
In the right of full disclosure: I serve on the Community Investment Committee of The Community Foundation.
We, like Flint, will get through our lead crisis this is stuff that’s been around literally for decades: we can’t click our heels three times and simply wish it away.
What I applaud is a regional public/ private partnership to tackle a problem that no one entity can handle alone.
I know lead abatement is certainly not ‘sexy’, but as our region makes the transition to a ‘nano-community’ it’s pretty darn important.
Lead is good for many things, like batteries and x-ray protection: in our folks, not so much!

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