City Council Holds Hearing on Combating Lead

Last week, New York City Council Committees on Environmental Protection, Health, and Houses & Buildings held a joint oversight hearing on Local Law 1 (LL1, passed in 2004) and to discuss a package of 25 introduced bills aimed at combating lead hazards in the city. The hearing was well-attended by concerned residents, community groups, advocates, and parents of lead-poisoned children, many of whom gave testimony.

Lead poisoning is a well understood and preventable problem, one that can have devastating lifelong impacts for families when young children or pregnant women are exposed. Although the number of lead-poisoned children in NYC has dropped precipitously since 2004, Council Speaker Corey Johnson noted that over 4,200 children under the age of six had dangerously high blood-lead levels in 2017 alone, demonstrating that this problem has not been solved.

At the hearing, Speaker Johnson criticized government agencies for failing to adequately address lead hazards in New York City and emphasized the negative consequences this inaction has had on children’s health. Lead paint and dust from disintegrating paint remain the primary mode of exposure for children.  

LL1 was designed to find and remediate lead paint problems before children become exposed, However, lax enforcement and uneven implementation has precluded the law from achieving its stated goal of eliminating childhood lead poisoning by 2010.

Members of the City Council expressed frustration that the approach of city agencies – most notably the Departments of Health & Mental Hygiene and Housing Preservation & Development – in implementing LL1 remains reactive and complaint-driven. In addition, the Council discussed a package of 25 recently introduced bills designed to fill gaps and close loopholes in legal and regulatory coverage on lead hazards. These bills advocate for more rigorous testing of children and their environment for the presence of lead, expand the scope of investigation into other sources of lead including water and soil, and focus preventative efforts on young children and pregnant women.

In her testimony, NYLCV’s New York City Program Director Adriana Espinoza emphasized the need to optimize and streamline efforts to prevent childhood lead poisoning. Building on a report that we recently released with New York Lawyers for the Public Interest and other partners, Adriana reiterated the need for relentless enforcement of LL1. In addition to strengthening the existing law, Adriana urged City Council Members to include protective action levels for lead in dust, paint, and drinking water in the proposed legislation and highlighted the need to strengthen education and outreach programs to protect children and pregnant women from lead hazards.   

Much of the testimony given by concerned community members underlined the need improve monitoring of children’s blood-lead levels, clarify enforcement authority, and specify penalties for violators explicitly within legislation to fix the implementation problems that have plagued city agencies. Public testimony converged on the notion that best-practice sharing and data transparency would ensure that agencies hold landlords accountable for lead-free housing. Importantly, members of City Council and the community agreed that these improvements to LL1, along with the ambitious efforts proposed in the package of bills, are not only possible but necessary in order to eliminate childhood lead poisoning in NYC once and for all.

NYLCV will continue to raise awareness of and advocate for policies that combat lead poisoning.