Lead is the silent roommate you might not know you have, and children are most susceptible to being poisoned. What does the impact of lead poisoning look like?

The Cortland Health Department – and health departments across the state – are working on the issue every day. It asked people who were impacted firsthand to describe their experiences.

What You Need To Know

  • One upstate health department wants to shift its focus from responding to lead poisoning to preventing

  • Lead poisoning can be more harmful for kids than adults

  • Poisoning can lead to issues with growth, hearing and speech, according to the CDC

"Circa 1830, 192 years of history, how many other children lived here and how many parents worried about lead testing?" reads one of the captions from the department's recent Lead Photovoice Project.

It is comprised of photos from people impacted by lead poisoning, along with a short caption to accompany it.

"Real faces, real people behind how lead affects the whole family," said Suzanne Osterhoudt, supervising public health nurse.

Illustrating the issues faced by people in the community, like keeping kids away from a peeling window, or lead dust covering a home. In all photos, children were poisoned by lead.

"OK, so you find out that your kid tested positive for lead. 'Now what?' was the quote in the focus group. 'That’s expensive. I don’t have that in my budget etcetera,'" said Margaret Broderick, epidemiology manager at the Cortland County Health Department.

The burden to clean up lead often falls on a family, so the health department in Cortland is hoping to expand its program and ability to help when lead is found.

"So what we're hoping this does is it sparks a fire of finding more grant funding, so that we're not left feeling like our hands are tied and we don't have anything that we can we can offer them," said Osterhoudt.

Instead of responding, they want to get ahead of the issue.

"There needs to be more of a focus around that prevention prior to them getting into our program," said Broderick.

"Fix the problem before it is a problem," said Osterhoudt.

Lead poisoning in children is especially concerning, because they often place their hands in their mouths. Their bodies are also more susceptible to the effects of lead poisoning than adults, including brain development.

Lead exposure can lead to issues with growth, hearing and speech, according to the Centers for Disease and Control Prevention.