Foundation Announces $1 Million ‘Impact Investment’ Initiative

The Community Foundation of Herkimer & Oneida Counties is launching a $1 million, three-year initiative aimed at eliminating childhood lead poisoning in Herkimer and Oneida counties. The Foundation will lead and coordinate “Lead-Free MV” with multiple community partners, including the Oneida County Health Department, Herkimer County Public Health and Herkimer County HealthNet.

In recent years, Oneida County has had one of the highest levels of childhood lead poisoning in the state. Beginning with The Foundation’s $1 million investment over the next three years, Lead-Free MV will aim to eradicate childhood lead poisoning by 2030. A Foundation-led coalition will focus on the elimination of lead hazards in pre-1978 housing, as well as expanding testing and community awareness of the problem. Efforts will range from direct outreach and education to strengthening legislation related to property maintenance.

“The Foundation is launching Lead-Free MV as the first of its planned ‘Impact Investments,’ and this is just the beginning,” said Alicia Dicks, Foundation president and CEO. “Impact Investment will use The Foundation’s resources to strategically address longstanding community challenges, and it will allow us to leverage those resources with like-minded partners for maximum effect.”

Experts say children can be exposed to lead through a variety of sources, including contaminated soil or water; imported toys, pottery or cosmetics; and paint used before 1978. Long-term lead exposure can result in developmental delays, learning difficulties and behavioral issues, with lifelong financial consequences—up to $723,000 per individual exposure. And despite a state law requiring early childhood testing for lead exposure, a third of pre-school children in Herkimer and Oneida counties have not had the required blood test.

“Every child should feel safe in their home, but lead is a silent danger threatening the health and well-being of our next generation,” said Ronald Cuccaro, chair of The Foundation Board of Trustees. “Unlike so many other conditions, lead poisoning can be prevented, and it’s our duty as an organization and as a community to provide the resources and leadership necessary to make prevention and eradication a reality.”

Currently, several programs addressing the issue exist on the local, state and federal levels, but advocates say better coordination would eliminate duplication of effort and produce greater outcomes. Other regions and municipalities who have successfully addressed the issue point to a strong coalition as the driving force for change. For example, a similar effort in Rochester and Monroe County achieved an 89 percent decrease in the number of children with elevated blood lead levels between 1999 and 2013.

In addition to providing three years of start-up funding, The Foundation will serve as a “backbone organization” for Lead-Free MV and coordinate efforts among partner organizations. A coalition and advisory committee will be established in the coming months to oversee the initiative’s mission and progress, and help advance the cause within the community. Coalition members will represent public health, local government, legal, insurance, healthcare, education, child care, construction and support services constituencies.