Last month, media outlets reported that 820 children, birth to five years of age, who were living in New York City’s public housing units tested positive for elevated exposure to lead during a five-year span. According to these published reports, that number grossly exceeds the city’s original claims that only nineteen children living in New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) developments had tested positive for elevated lead levels over an even longer, ten-year, period.
However, city officials have now alleged these reports are misconstrued and the information is inaccurate. City Hall said it never claimed those nineteen children were the only one who had tested positive for elevated levels. What’s more, the city said that, in following with the recommendations provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, since 2012, it has made sure to notify a child’s family and health care provider if he or she has tested positive for lead levels of five micrograms per deciliter of blood and above. It has also conducted home visits for levels of 10 micrograms per deciliter of blood per recommendations. The reports indicate the city only considered children with levels higher than 10 micrograms per deciliter of blood at risk.
Mayor Bill de Blasio announced NYC would invest $10 million to make it one of the first cities nationwide to conduct free home inspections for all children with lead levels of 5 micrograms per deciliter of blood and higher. This announcement comes after a press conference at which he also indicated the public housing problems, “reflect management dysfunction and organizational failure, including a culture where spin is often rewarded, and accountability often does not exist.”
The conference was held in response to federal government accusations that officials of the New York City housing authority long covered up some major safety issues, as well engaged in systematic misconduct, lying, manipulation, and indifference in its management of the state’s public housing. The federal complaint traced a pattern of officials falsely telling federal regulators that lead paint inspections had been done when they had not been since at least 2010, and therefore, increasing risk of exposure. At the time, Mayor de Blasio made reference to “decades of divestment by the federal and state governments and decades of neglect by New York City government” that had pushed the housing authority “to the brink.”
City Comptroller Scott Stringer stated his office would launch an investigation into the City’s procedures for addressing lead poisoning. “This deception must end today. It is horrifying that the Department of Health kept this information under wraps and it is outrageous that the City continues to justify and minimize this scandal,” Stringer said.
A spokesperson for City Hall responded to Stringer’s comments, “The Comptroller seems to be reacting to a tabloid headline instead of concrete public health evidence. The Centers for Disease Control guidance is clear, and the Health Department has always followed it. The reason we are now going above and beyond these guidelines is because the City has had dramatic success in reducing childhood lead exposure.”