Working to Combat Lead Poisoning in NYC

October 5, 2018

Lead is a highly toxic metal that can have irreversible health impacts, especially on children, causing permanent injuries to their developing brains and bodies. Lead-based paint in homes and buildings is the primary cause of childhood lead poisoning in New York City.

In the past few months, we have seen a considerable amount of news bringing NYC’s lead poisoning problem into the spotlight, whether it’s contaminated school drinking water or lead-based paint in homes. Earlier in the summer, New York Comptroller Scott Stringer officially announced an investigation into the agencies responsible for covering-up the lead crisis in NYC’s public housing.

Because removing toxins from our environment is one of the top priorities in our NYC Policy Agenda, we teamed up with New York Lawyers for the Public Interest and other partners to draft a report on the negative health impacts of lead poisoning in NYC and review the city’s enforcement of its lead poisoning prevention law.

In 2004, NYC enacted Local Law 1 (LL1), which created the country’s most protective measures to identify and remediate housing-based lead hazards and aimed to eliminate childhood lead poisoning by 2010. The law includes proactive lead poisoning prevention measures including mandating that landlords conduct regular inspections and abate lead paint in old apartments (built before 1960) during a vacancy.

The report found that lead paint in homes remains the primary source of lead poisoning today. Because children’s brains and bodies are very susceptible to lead poisoning, they can suffer from acute and chronic injuries caused by elevated blood lead levels such as decreased intelligence, behavioral difficulties, impaired kidney function, and cognitive dysfunction.

We also examined the prevention provisions of LL1, enforcement, and the loopholes that exist in the law. The report found that landlords are, in practice, not being held accountable for non-compliance with the law and that relevant city agencies have largely failed to enforce the primary prevention measures of LL1 since it was enacted. The Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) enforcement data indicates that New York City has never taken any enforcement action against a single landlord for failing to conduct the mandated annual inspections in the 14 years since the law went into effect.

Landlords are also not facing any consequences for failing to provide the required documents indicating that the buildings have been abated before new tenants move in. HPD has only issued 2 violations for the failure to comply with mandatory lead abatements at turnover.

Without meaningful enforcement and engagement with landlords, LL1 will continue to be a complaint-driven system rather than the proactive prevention law it was designed and envisioned to be.

The report also provided detailed recommendations for improving accountability. We included specific recommendations: enforcement of landlord’s annual inquiry and inspection obligations; enforcement of the requirement to eliminate certain lead hazards as soon as an apartment is vacant; safe work practices; and additional data reporting. By implementing our recommendations, the city would be able to proactively eliminate lead poisoning.

We believe that with a clear understanding of the flaws in the current law, the city will be able to strengthen the enforcement efforts of LL1, assuring compliance and transparency among landlords. We will continue to spread awareness about policies that combat lead poisoning.

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