Editor’s Note: The Northside Business Partnership is an association comprised of Northside businesses, property owners, and organizations. It serves as an advocate group for the Northside, strengthening the vitality of the business community by connecting, engaging, and promoting its members. NBP is administrated by NEHDA.
Patrick Strodel is the president of Lead Safe LLC and Rebecca Markus is the owner. Lead Safe is a New York State Certified Woman-owned Business Enterprise (WBE) that is dedicated to professional lead testing and consulting. Lead Safe has been a Northside Business Partnership member since 2013. Read on to discover more about the link between poverty and child lead poisoning and easy ways for you to keep your family safe.
Q: What are your positions with Lead Safe?
Patrick: She’s the owner, and I’m the Operations Coordinator, which is kind of a catch all for whatever needs to be done.
Q: How did you come to work for Lead Safe?
Patrick: I actually started this business back in 2000. Then we decided for professional reasons to change the ownership. It started out as a little Lead Safe DBA, you know, small business, and then we decided to make a Limited Liability Company, Lead Safe LLC, and we decided to have [Rebecca] be the sole member. It helps with a lot of different things, not including protecting assets.
Q: What kind of background do you need to have to go into this type of work?
Patrick: Well, I started out in the mid ‘80s doing asbestos removal. At that time, it was a really thriving business where it was so new and everybody was sort of freaked out by asbestos that they’d almost throw money at the owners of these companies to get rid of it. I got the training and certification back then to do it. But I quickly realized that that business was not so nice, especially for the workers. You’re in the bowels of buildings, removing pipe insulation and whatever, and not the best work. So I switched from the company that I started with to a different company that did air monitoring and project monitoring and that company had a training school where basically their policy was you could take whatever training courses they had for free. So I just took whatever they had, and lead was one of them. Nobody at the time was really a specialist in lead, so I’m like, that’s perfect for me! At the time, compared to today, there was very little, very few programs in the country for dealing with lead, so I was like a pioneer to find out from the different sources what really needs to be done to control this thing. That’s how it kind of started. I learned to be a lead inspector, then ended up being a trainer.
Q: Has Lead Safe always been located on the Northside?
Patrick: We were on Burnet Ave. for a while—
Rebecca: —and then a couple of blocks down the road. We’re both from upstate New York. He grew up in Syracuse, I grew up in Utica.
Patrick: I’m a legacy Northsider though. My father’s family lived here and actually this building was previously the Altman building.
Q: What about this location keeps the business here?
Rebecca: Well, right here, we’re lead central. This Syracuse area—actually, there’s pockets in New York—Syracuse is a big one, Buffalo is another one, Utica to a smaller extent just because it’s a smaller city, and then down near New York City.
Patrick: There’s clusters of amazingly high instances of childhood lead poisoning.
Rebecca: It’s primarily because the housing stock is so old. It’s been a while since I looked up the statistics, but as of a few years ago, about 75% of the housing stock was built before 1945. You go around here, you go within a one block radius and you’ll see chipping and peeling paint, and lead paint was great, it held up well to mold and moisture so they used it everywhere here. But now it’s deteriorating so it’s becoming a problem.
Patrick: We also see a disproportionately high incidence of childhood lead poisoning in inner city housing with minorities. That’s a couple reasons, she alluded to some of it. The housing stock, those places were built back when Syracuse was the grand city and they were beautiful homes, but they’re not maintained like they were. Also, the people that live there, and I’m painting with a wide brush here, but they’re living in poverty and consequently things like nutrition is not the same as it is elsewhere and so a child’s body that doesn’t have what it needs tends to absorb things like lead much more readily than if you had a full satisfied nutritional diet . . . The problem is not just a child is sick for a while. It’s a lifetime ailment and the cost to that person and to society—if you take the humanity out of a lifetime of suffering, which of course we wouldn’t do—but if you just looked at it bold, brass, dollars and cents, a child that has this problem is reduced IQ. To the point where they probably won’t finish high school, or if they do, they’re in the very lower echelon of grades. There’s a relationship between the amount of education you have and the amount of income you’re able to generate. A lot of the kids don’t graduate from high school, they have difficulty finding jobs, or they can’t even keep a job. They still need food and shelter, so where are they going to get that from? Criminal behavior. There’s a direct relationship between childhood lead poisoning and criminal behavior . . . A significant number end up in the correctional system, and who pays for prison? Taking the humanity out of it and just looking at dollars and cents, this problem is massive and extremely expensive.
Q: Do you have any advice for steps the average person can take to safeguard against lead in their homes, especially considering that many people on the Northside rent and live in older buildings?
Patrick: Because of the lack of information out there, the public thinks, oh well we banned it in 1978. Why are we still talking about it? And it’s because it’s still here!
Rebecca: There’s this disservice of saying, ‘oh well, I don’t eat paint chips. It’s not going to be an issue.’ And actually, usually that’s not the primary way that people are exposed to it. It’s usually a secondary thing. Kids have toys near the windows or on the floor, or there’s lead dust. It gets on their hands, and they go to grab something to eat, they’re not going to wash their hands first, so whatever’s on their hands goes right into their mouths. Or with little, little kids, 2 and younger, everything, hands go into the mouth. And that’s primarily how they’re exposed. It’s not the stereotypical picture of a kid by a wall eating those paint chips.
Patrick: Although some do. But the data shows that more than 90% get it from the dust.
Rebecca: Particularly right now with spring and hopefully we’ll get some warmer weather, people are starting to open up their windows. Good thing to do and particularly for older windows, get a wet paper towel. Wipe that window sill. Have it be a weekly thing. Wipe those windowsills so that paint chips can’t build up on them. Same with the window wells when you open up that window. Take a wet paper towel and wipe that window well, get out those paint chips, and throw it out. Probably the easiest thing you can do. Other things like using Swiffers to clean your floors. Again, you’ve got that wet towel that you’re putting on something like a Swiffer and you can throw it away and that way it’s out of the environment.
Patrick: The important thing is not to reuse it. The reason it’s paper towels and not a sponge is because you’re gonna discard it. Unless you’re going to throw out the sponge, you’re just moving the lead. The sponge will retain some of it. So like, either baby wipes or paper towels, something with moisture that you just wipe across, particularly the window sills and troughs, that’s the main sources. That actually would have a significant impact in the city if people regularly did that.
Q: What is the importance of using a wet cleaning material?
Patrick: Lead kind of clings. It’s almost like electrostatic. It likes to stick to the surface, so if you just wipe the surface with a dry towel, some will become airborne and you’ll just move it. It won’t be as effective as picking up the lead from the surface. Even better is to have a little soapy water that will break down that surface tension. But even if it’s just a wet cloth, will go a long way in cleaning up the dust. So definitely wet, not dry, and soapy is better. That’s why I say baby wipes.
Q: What’s your favorite thing about your job?
Patrick: Knowing that we make a difference, I think every day, with the children that live here. It’s kind of a weird idea, but we’re actually in business–
Patrick & Rebecca together: —to put ourselves out of business.
Rebecca: It’s a strange irony.
Patrick: I’m sure we could make a living doing something else. So if we actually ever ran out of lead hazards to identify or people to train—but the sad fact is, it’s so extensive, not just in Syracuse but all over the Northeast, and particularly in the Erie Canal cities. There’s so much of this housing stock. In our lifetime, we’re not going to run out of work. Unfortunately. But knowing every day when we’re doing our thing, we’re making a difference.
Rebecca: The ideal is for us to go in to do our job before a child is affected by it, have that lead treated, and have there be no issue. So it’s also kind of ironic because if we do our job well it means that nobody notices. If we don’t do our job well, then there’s going to be trouble down the line.
Learn more about Lead Safe and the services it offers on their website: www.leadtesting.net.