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Under Federal Oversight, New York City Cracks Down on Lead Paint in Public Housing

Mayor de Blasio on Monday announced a massive new campaign to definitively figure out once and for all the true scope of the lead paint problem in the city's public housing.

By Greg B. Smith

Mayor de Blasio on Monday announced a massive new campaign to definitively figure out once and for all the true scope of the lead paint problem in the city's public housing.

For the first time, the city will inspect 130,000 of NYCHA's 175,000 apartments for the toxic metal -- far more apartments than officials have previously said might have potential lead paint problems.

During his weekly appearance with Errol Louis on NY1, the mayor also announced the city would begin what he called an "intensive outreach" to families with children in both public and private housing who register elevated levels of lead in their blood.

"We need to take, in effect, a Vision Zero approach to lead," the mayor said, using the same catch-phrase he's tagged to his program to eliminate pedestrian fatalities in New York City.

The announcement follows the revelation last month by the Daily News that more than 800 children living in NYCHA units over the past few years have registered levels of lead poisoning of 5 micrograms to 9 micrograms per deciliter -- levels the federal government deems of concern.

The city's Health Department did not make this information public, notify NYCHA or inspect the apartments of these children because they used a more conservative measure of 10 micrograms to trigger an investigation for the source of lead.

Late Monday, a de Blasio spokeswoman added that the city will be reaching out to the 800 children "to ensure they've been connected to care."

The city "will take any action we can to help them," said Olivia Lapeyrolerie.

The issue of quantifying the presence of lead in NYCHA's 320 developments has, until Monday, been a haphazard affair. Earlier this year, for example, NYCHA claimed that only 55,000 units likely contain lead paint, which was banned in the city in 1960 and nationally in the mid-1970s.

But recent revelations have shown some apartments NYCHA had in the past deemed lead-free have, in fact, tested positive for the presence of lead paint.

As a result, de Blasio announced that the city will begin inspecting 130,000 NYCHA apartments for the presence of lead -- an unprecedented effort he said should clarify the scope of the problem.

"This is a massive undertaking -- 130,000 (units) we don't have that definitive answer on. Our goal now is to do a very intensive investigation," he said. "We're going to then be able to say which apartments have lead and which apartments don't have lead."

He said the inspections will be performed by private contractors using the most up-to-date technology.

"Let's actually do the count," he said. "It's never been done in history. Let's get it done."

After the Daily News revealed June 30 that hundreds of young children under 6 living in NYCHA units had lead poisoning, the city revealed it had switched to the federal 5 microgram standard in January for public housing and would do the same in nonpublic housing going forward.

On Monday, the mayor also said that the city Health Department going forward will reveal the number of children living in NYCHA units who test positive for lead at levels of 5 to 9 micrograms.

In June, NYCHA and the city entered into a deal with Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman agreeing to the appointment of an independent monitor. That monitor's job will be to ensure management is in compliance with state, local and federal rules requiring that public housing apartments be kept habitable. As part of that deal, de Blasio agreed to commit $2.2 billion to NYCHA upgrades over the next five years.

The agreement came after federal prosecutors filed a complaint revealing years of NYCHA management lying and covering up failures to remedy a host of problems, particularly lead paint. For a time, NYCHA simply stopped inspecting apartments for lead paint while falsely claiming it was performing all required tests.

The federal complaint made clear that NYCHA repeatedly lied in response to News reports on the lead paint problem, telling tenants and the public that the agency was aggressively pursuing lead paint remediation when it knew it was not.

(c)2018 New York Daily News

Caroline Cournoyer is GOVERNING's senior web editor.
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