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Press Release

Promising approaches to the prevention of lead poisoning in children: Cleveland Fed talks with experts from Rochester and Cleveland

Decades after the United States banned lead paint and leaded gasoline, children are still suffering from lead poisoning. “We’re at heightened risk in this region because so much of our housing stock is wood frame and old—built prior to 1978 when lead-based paint was banned,” says Mary Helen Petrus, assistant vice president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland’s Community Development Department. (The Cleveland Fed serves a region that comprises Ohio, western Pennsylvania, the northern panhandle of West Virginia, and eastern Kentucky.)

“Research has documented the negative impact of lead exposure on kids’ educational outcomes and on their ability to reach their full potential in life,” says Lisa Nelson, a Cleveland Fed community development advisor who authored a brief that examines impact studies and remediation efforts both locally and nationally. According to Nelson, efforts to prevent lead exposure are most effective if the various experts who touch families’ lives work together. To that end, the Cleveland Fed convened a forum in late 2016 to encourage the sharing of best practices and research among academia, nonprofits, government agencies, and healthcare providers. (Presentations from the forum are available online.)

Recently, the Cleveland Fed talked with several of the forum’s speakers about promising approaches to lead poisoning prevention. One of those speakers was Katrina Smith Korfmacher, director of Community Outreach and Engagement Core, Environmental Health Sciences Center and associate professor in the Department of Environmental Medicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center. According to Korfmacher:

“The community partnership that we have in Rochester is the most critical thing. We have this beautifully simple but elegant system of rental inspections that is very efficient and cost-effective. We have a holistic look through collaboration of the county health department, the city housing department, and community groups, and that helps us look at the data and make adjustments for what’s needed. For example, initially under our proactive rental inspections, we were doing dust wipes inall types of units on the same inspection schedule, but we found that 91percent of kids with elevated blood-lead levels lived in dwellings with 1 or 2units. So we stopped doing dust-wipe testing [the process wherein wipes are used to test surfaces for lead dust] in larger structures.”

“In Rochester, by putting into place clear expectations and incentives for property owners, we have shifted the focus: For little incremental cost of maintaining paint and friction surfaces, landowners have been able to significantly raisethe floor with regard to lead safety,” says Korfmacher.  “As a result, the number of kids with elevated blood-lead levels has come down 2.4 times faster than other upstate cities without this approach to controlling lead hazards. I do think that the idea that we need to remove all lead from paint or from buildings in order to address the problem is a problem. It means people are afraid or reluctant to take the first step to make it better.”

For additional insights from Korfmacher and from two Cleveland experts, Claudia J. Coulton, a professor at Case Western Reserve University and founder and co-director of the Center on Urban Poverty and Community Development, and Ronald J.H. O’Leary, director of the City of Cleveland’s Department of Building and Housing, read When It Comes to Lead Poisoning, Prevention is Key.


2017 Policy Summit on Housing, Human Capital, and Inequality to be held June 22 and 23 in Cleveland

Registration is now open for our 2017 Policy Summit, "Transforming Regional Economies: Growth and Equity through Policy and Practice," which will highlight the latest research and field initiatives on topics related to equitable development. The Policy Summit is a biennial forum that attracts an audience of several hundred academics, bankers, elected officials, funders, policymakers, and practitioners from across the eastern and midwestern United States. Led by the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, in partnership with the Federal Reserve Banks of Philadelphia and Minneapolis, the Policy Summit is a forum for outside-the-Beltway policy discussions. (Note: Registration is free for members of the news media.)

Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland

The Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland is one of 12 regional Reserve Banks that along with the Board of Governors in Washington DC comprise the Federal Reserve System. Part of the US central bank, the Cleveland Fed participates in the formulation of our nation’s monetary policy, supervises banking organizations, provides payment and other services to financial institutions and to the US Treasury, and performs many activities that support Federal Reserve operations System-wide. In addition, the Bank supports the well-being of communities across the Fourth Federal Reserve District through a wide array of research, outreach, and educational activities.

The Cleveland Fed, with branches in Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, serves an area that comprises Ohio, western Pennsylvania, eastern Kentucky, and the northern panhandle of West Virginia.

Media contact

Doug Campbell,, 513.218.1892