Warner Student is One of Several Local Child Advocates Recognized for Lead Abatement Efforts

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) presented the Coalition to Prevent Lead Poisoning, an initiative that Warner School doctoral student Ralph Spezio co-founded and currently helps lead, the 2009 Environmental Justice Achievement Award. The Coalition, a partnership among the University of Rochester, City of Rochester, Monroe County, and Empire Justice, was recognized for its community-based efforts in reducing childhood lead poisoning in Monroe County.

The Coalition and several other local groups have worked together since 2000 on a wide range of community-based efforts that led to a historic lead abatement ordinance approved by the City of Rochester in 2005 that has increased the number of homes tested for lead.

Spezio first discovered in 1999 that something was wrong with the health of the children in the Rochester elementary school where he was principal. “After gaining access to my children’s medical records, I learned that these children were coming to school for the first time with lead poisoning that was ten times the national average,” says Spezio, who is currently a senior associate and community liaison in the Department of Community and Preventive Medicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center. Forty one percent of the three- to five-year olds in his school had blood-lead levels that have been linked to brain damage and were increasingly implicated in a variety of behavioral problems.

As a result of these findings, Spezio then partnered with other child advocates and helped form the Coalition. Spezio, who was the Coalition’s first chair, and other University faculty and staff have worked to remove lead from children’s homes and have been instrumental in several outreach programs, including Get the Lead Out, to test the homes of children at risk of lead poisoning and a “lead lab” which demonstrated lead safe practices.

“Through this community-wide advocacy for children, we have evolved and surpassed many other communities throughout the nation with respect to how we view and solve the health issues of our children,” adds Spezio. “And our community’s heroic response and the courageous leadership shown by our elected leaders can serve as a model for other communities facing this threat.”

The Coalition has grown tremendously, both locally and statewide, since its inception and has served as inspiration across New York and has been studied by others in New Jersey and elsewhere.

A doctoral student in the educational administration program at the Warner School, Spezio is currently studying the impact of neurofeedback programs on the reading scores of lead poisoned children as part of his dissertation research. He believes existing computer software may be instrumental in restoring cognitive function among children with lead poisoning.

Tags: child advocacy, Ralph Spezio