Advocates Call for Revision of Health Code to Fix Loophole

For decades, NYLCV and its allies have been fighting for laws that protect the public from the harmful effects of lead poisoning. Early this year, the New York City Council passed legislation that requires more rigorous lead testing in parks, schools, and homes—a long overdue step in the right direction. Mayor Bill de Blasio and NYC Council Speaker Corey Johnson have shown that when it comes to lead exposure, the health and development of our children remains a high priority today.

Unfortunately, we have seen that there is still work to be done to ensure that our children are properly protected. In June, WNYC reported on an incident that allowed the health of a child to be overlooked because of a loophole in the new laws. The child, a toddler in Brooklyn, tested with elevated blood lead levels (EBLL).

As prescribed by law, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DoHMH) conducted an investigation to find the source of the lead. The health inspector, in addition to testing the residences where the child was staying, also tested the paint at the child’s daycare facilities. Unbeknownst to the inspector, the daycare was located in a Department of Education (DOE) building, where the DoHMH does not have clear authority to conduct lead paint and dust investigations. As a result, the DOE did not act on the results of the inspector’s report, which showed dangerous levels of lead in the paint at the daycare, in addition to other poor conditions such as peeling and chipping wall paint.

Health Code § 173.13(d) currently requires investigations for lead paint and dust when an EBLL is found in dwellings—not schools and daycares. Testing is only mandatory in the soils at the facilities. A group of advocates that includes NYLCV feels that the handling of the issue and the DOE’s interpretation of the law goes directly against the purpose of the legislation. We believe that the loophole should not exist. A letter was written and sent to the DoHMH expressing concerns with this case. Advocates believe that if a child presents with EBLL, then the DoHMH should be mandated to investigate a school or daycare for lead in paint and dust. We are asking the Board of Health to consider making these changes to better protect our children from dangerous EBLL.