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New York homes of more than 11,000 kids with high lead levels went uninspected by city: report

2019-09-26

The city failed to perform lead inspections on thousands of buildings housing more than 11,000 children exposed to the dangerous toxin despite knowing exactly where they lived, a new investigation found.

For nearly five years, the Department of Housing Preservation and Development didn’t perform a single inspection for lead paint in 9,099 private buildings with as many as 11,168 children who had elevated levels of blood-lead — even though health officials had blood test evidence showing where they resided, according to a probe from Comptroller Scott Stringer released Thursday.

“The city’s failed to keep our children safe from this potent toxin," Stringer said.

The city’s failure to use their own information meant at least 2,749 children living in uninspected public and private buildings were found with high levels of lead even after other kids in the same residences tested positive, Stringer’s office said.

HPD lead inspectors also never visited 503 buildings in their jurisdiction where health data showed three or more kids with lead-blood levels above the federal government’s standard of 5 micrograms per deciliter -- the threshold the Centers for Disease Control deems concerning.

There was also a disparity between boroughs.

“Even though Brooklyn was bound to have six times more lead exposed children than Manhattan, between 2013 and 2018, the rate of inspection in Manhattan was three times the rate in Brooklyn,” Stringer said.

And the agency’s HPD inspections didn’t reach 63% of buildings associated with a child lead exposure case because the agency only responded to resident complaints instead of looking for hotspots.

“The city shouldn’t require an invitation to look for lead,” Stringer said.

The investigation, which covers buildings with three units or more, also noted HPD didn’t issue a single violation against landlords who didn’t investigate and address lead-paint hazards in their rental units.

Stringer called on the city to inspect thousands of buildings with past lead exposure.

He also said the city should fully fund the LeadFree NYC effort, launched in January, and put up another $16 million on top of the $9 million already allocated for HPD over the next three fiscal years.

The findings come as the city faces increasing pressure over lead paint risks in schools and public housing apartments.

Stringer faulted the Department of Housing Preservation and Development for failing to examine a total 9,671 buildings with at least 11,972 children suffering from high lead levels between January 2013 and Oct. 10, 2018 – including 572 public housing units where 804 exposed kids lived.

But the department isn’t responsible for conducting lead paint inspections for the vast majority of NYCHA units. So about 6% of the buildings and 7% of the children included in the analysis aren’t overseen by HPD.

Mayor de Blasio’s office pointed out that Stringer’s investigation also primarily covers a five-year period when the city used a more conservative lead-paint threshold of 10 micrograms to prompt intervention and inspection. Last year the city began using the federal standard of 5 micrograms.

“New York City has driven down the number of kids exposed to lead by 90% since 2005, and with Lead Free NYC, we are pushing exposure to zero,” de Blasio spokeswoman Jane Meyer said. “We identified all the areas the Comptroller mentions nearly a year ago as part of Lead Free NYC and have been inspecting the apartments and engaging any family with a child with elevated levels. We already closed these gaps and are doing more than ever to keep kids safe.”