New Frontiers in Syracuse’s Lead Poison Battle Lead in Syracuse is Still a Critical Issue

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — “Two weeks ago, we’re in the room, my baby is sad, he comes to me and lays his head on my lap,” Darlene Medley recalled to a group of about 75 people. “He says to me, ‘Mommy I don’t wanna talk no more, because the people they don’t understand me, and it takes me a long time’. This is a seven-year-old child, a seven-year-old child that was robbed of his freedom.”

Medley’s twin sons were poisoned by their rented home in Syracuse’s North Side. As a result, they suffer from developmental delays and other symptoms. Medley recalled ways in which lead has impacted two of her children to attendees at a town hall last month on the local battle with lead poisoning. The group 100 Black Men of Syracuse sponsored that meeting.

Although lead paint was outlawed in 1978, old housing stock in Syracuse outlived that cutoff. Combine that with historical factors like redlining and you have an issue that has not only maintained, but one that has been generationally and disproportionately crippling for Black families.

The battle with lead poison is in full swing, and, despite some headway being made, Keenan Lewis, who was appointed by Mayor Ben Walsh in the fall to be the city’s first Lead Paint Program Coordinator, says that much work is left to be done.

“Well, my honest assessment is that we’re in a crisis,” said Lewis. We’re still in a place where there are children just as recent as weeks ago that are still newly being identified as having elevated blood lead levels.”

Some of the newest steps the city is taking to end the crisis include appointing Lewis, implementing the lead ordinance that was passed in 2020, and giving more funding to the Lead Hazard Control program, which filters rental registries, checks certificates of compliance, and hears complaints from residents impacted by lead poison.

Advocates and government members alike are not getting complacent. Just last week, the group 100 Black Men of Syracuse held a town hall on the issue of lead. The event featured a diverse panel of speakers with different roles in the battle against lead in Syracuse.

Medley, Counselor and I-81 Project Director Joe Driscoll, Deb Lewis, the county’s lead czar, Public Health Researcher Kiara van Brackle, and Paul Ciavarri, a community organizer at Legal Services of CNY were those who spoke.

The event was dedicated to continue raising awareness about the issue to the public, and Ciavarri says that mission was executed.

“I was a presenter at the 100 Black men event about four or five years ago on the same topic, and this is far more dynamic than that was,” Ciavarri said.  “More people, and a broader range of conversations, so I think that really shows that we’ve grown the dynamic in this community.”

The solutions list to ending lead poison in Syracuse may be long: including more responsible landlords, more inspectors, more, funding, and better housing structure, but to so many in Syracuse, the time is now.

“It’s unfair and it’s unjust, and I’m begging y’all to please…it’s time for us, all organizations, to come together and really, really start to put the peddle to the meddle and demanding that they stop poisoning our children, because these are our children and they are future of us,” said Medley.


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