Lead paint risk revealed in additional 900 NYC classrooms as city beefs up testing protocols
New lead paint test results give city school officials a big problem to paint over.
Lead paint peeled from the walls of more than 1,800 city elementary school classrooms last school year — more than double the number officials reported in July, the city Education Department said Thursday.
Officials said all of the rooms have been sealed over with primer and a new coat of paint, and will be safe before the start of school September 6.
Many experts believe painting over the problem is actually safer than scraping out old lead paint. “Removing the paint is always more complicated,” said Tom Nelter, an expert with the Environmental Defense Fund.
But the city’s expanded testing was long overdue, said Morri Markowitz, Director of the Lead Poisoning Prevention and Treatment Program at Montefiore Medical Center.
“What happened for so long that they didn’t do anything?" Markowitz asked.
“There’s absolutely no surprise in" the new results, he added.
The test results announced Thursday — the first ever conducted in all of the city’s first-grade classrooms — came after the city reported in July the results of lead paint testing in all of the city’s classrooms built before 1978 and used by kindergartners and other pre-K students.
Those kindergarten and pre-K classroom tests found risky levels of lead paint in more than 900 classrooms. The tests of first-grade classrooms released Thursday found lead in more than 900 other classrooms.
Education Department officials said that on the first day of school, they will send letters to families of children in the affected classrooms.
More tests are now planned in common areas such as gyms and cafeterias, Education Department officials said Thursday. Those tests are being undertaken amid pressure from from City Council members. Officials didn’t say when the tests would begin.
The city has now tested more than 8,400 classrooms at schools built before 1978, and found lead paint risk in over 20% of them.
Lead paint — which can cause cognitive delays and poisoning in children who ingest it — has been banned in the city since 1960.
Federal guidelines call for testing in spaces used by children under age six. City schools previously tested only rooms used by kindergartners and younger children. The Education Department upgraded the policy to cover first-grade classrooms this summer.
Classroom lead paint test results were made public for the first time in July after a WNYC investigation revealed lead paint and dust in four city elementary schools.
Current rules require custodians to constantly check for lead paint — and report three times a year whether lead paint is chipping in classrooms used by young children. Contractors than use X-ray tests to determine whether the deteriorating paint has lead.
Markowitz said testing first-grade classrooms and common spaces is a good start. But he believes three paint reports a year aren’t enough, because the gap between the tests leaves too much time for paint chips to develop.
The city should test all schools for lead paint, create an inventory of where it exists, and remediate it, Markowitz said.