Brendan Keany

County Officials Say Lead Exposure at Playground is Unlikely

"We've never identified playing at playgrounds as a source of lead exposure."

July 24, 2019 - 2:10 pm

BUFFALO (WBEN - Brendan Keany) - On Wednesday, Erie County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw released a report indicating that lead paint had been discovered on certain playground equipment at county parks, and he called for an immediate shutdown of playgrounds until the problem is further investigated.

However, in response to the report, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz simply stated that this shutdown will simply not happen.

"Most of the playground equipment we have is all new, it's been purchased since 1978, which is the deadline for when they stopped using lead paint," said Poloncarz. "You drive around here and see the the playground equipment up by the casino, it's only like three or four years would be ridiculous for me to shut that down."

He added that the chances of worrisome lead exposure at a playground are essentially negligible.

"It's repeated exposure to lead paint that is an issue," he said. "Going to a park and sliding down an old slide from the 1930's and 1940's is not going to cause lead poisoning. Living in a house that had lead paint on the walls, when you lift the window sashes and the lead dust gets in the air, and it's constantly breathed in by child, that can cause lead poisoning."

Listen to the full Poloncarz response below:

This statement is something that Erie County Commissioner of Health Dr. Gale Burstein confirms.

"We've never identified playing at playgrounds in Erie County parks as a source of lead exposure," said Burstein. "Our sanitarians are actually very thoughtful in their investigations, and it's not just a cookie cutter operation or just assumed that it's the paint in the house."

Burstein cited an example that extends several years back where a cooking spice in the household of a child who possessed elevated lead levels in the blood was identified as the source of the exposure. That story actually made national news and changed United States policy about importing spices from Southeast Asia.

She also says that the day she was notified via letter from the comptroller's office that there was potential lead exposure at playgrounds in Erie County parks, she deployed the public health sanitarian to test various areas.

"We are systematically going out and inspecting all of the playground equipment and all of the park facilities, such as the shelters, and testing them with our equipment for potential lead exposure...we want to make sure that, in working with parks, that all potential Erie County recreational facilities are safe and lead-free, so we're doing our due diligence working with parks to identify playground equipment or facilities that could have an elevated lead level and making the appropriate repairs," said Burstein. "But, this is not where we see the exposures that cause the elevated blood-lead levels and cause illness or adverse consequences in our communities' children."

Further, Poloncarz says it wouldn't make sense to shut down all playgrounds in county parks mainly because lead could only possibly affect a small percentage of equipment.

"Our health department came out with specialized equipment, not the cheap stuff that you can buy in the store, but specialized equipment to check a number of the old pieces that exist in the parks - a lot of them are safe, and some of them may still have some lead on it, but we can encapsulate that by painting over it, so that's not an issue, and some of the equipment is actually going to be removed pursuant to the park's master plan that just went into effect this year," said Poloncarz. "Take a look at most of our playground equipment and it's all brand new - it's all the new plastic, metal with no paint on it whatsoever."

Listen to the full conversation with Burstein below:

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