NYC Releases Plan to Prevent Childhood Lead Poisoning

Last year, NYLCVEF issued a report on combating lead poisoning in New York City, which found that landlords are largely not being held accountable for non-compliance with existing law. Enforcement data from the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) indicates that the City has never taken any enforcement action against a single landlord for failing to conduct the mandated annual inspection in the 14 years since the law went into effect.

NYLCV and other advocates met with the administration on this topic in the months after our report was released.

Last week, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Senior Advisor on Lead Prevention Kathryn Garcia released the City’s roadmap to finally eliminating childhood lead exposure, called LeadFreeNYC. The $180 million four-year plan would cost the city $12 million per year over the next four years and the rest of would come from federal and state funding streams.

The plan seeks to completely eliminate lead exposure by 2029 by expanding blood-lead screening in children, increased enforcement and interagency collaboration, and increasing public education on lead risks. LeadFreeNYC includes a combination of approaches, including tougher standards, operational improvements, and improved public outreach. For example, testing children’s blood-lead levels is key to determining whether lead hazards exist in their environment. Currently, only 80% of children have their blood-lead levels tested at least once by age three despite state law that requires all children to be tested twice by this age. The new program will expand staffing and outreach efforts to improve screening rates and will ensure that each child with an elevated blood lead level (5mcg/dL of blood or above) has a designated nurse to help coordinate their follow-up care.

LeadFreeNYC also proposes to expand the reach of the city’s current lead prevention standard, Local Law 1, by increasing enforcement and transparency, expanding the requirements to 1-2 family households, and lowering the action level for lead in paint and dust. Lead paint is the most common source of childhood lead exposure in NYC. According to the city’s plan, the new standard of 0.5mcg/cm2 for lead in paint will be the most stringent of any large U.S. city. The plan also calls for lead testing in over 100,000 additional New York Housing Authority (NYCHA) apartments and requires all family shelter units to be tested and remediated. Further, by creating a lead-free certification and requiring landlords to maintain lead testing records online, the plan will make lead paint information more readily available to tenants.

In addition to lead in paint and dust, the plan seeks to address lead hazards from consumer products, soil, and water. For consumer goods, the NYC Department of Health will create an index of products that are known to contain lead and will provide training for businesses that sell them. In addition, the plan includes educational campaigns about unsafe products targeted to high-risk communities. Lead in soil will be addressed by surveying NYCHA playgrounds to identify lead contamination, providing clean topsoil to communities impacted by high lead in soil, and education on safe soil practices. Finally, while public water sources in NYC are virtually lead-free, there are over 100,000 privately owned lead service lines in the city. Under the plan, the NYC Department of Environmental Protection would help low-income homeowners replace these lines, and will publish a map identifying all private lead service lines so that homeowners and tenants can test their water for lead.  

The LeadFreeNYC Plan is a step forward, allocating much-needed resources for lead prevention and incorporating many of the solutions NYLCVEF proposed in last year’s research report. It allocates much-needed resources and staff. Data will be used to target enforcement at 200 buildings each year that are at high-risk based on prior violations using a statistical profile created by city agencies. It calls for more interagency collaboration, especially between the Departments of Health and Buildings regarding stop-work orders when there are lead exposure risks during construction.

While all of these measures will help reduce incidences of lead poisoning, the most critical step towards eliminating lead in paint and dust, the main source of exposure in children, is stronger enforcement of current laws. As part of the roadmap, HPD plans to expand litigation efforts against the city’s worst landlords who repeatedly fail to comply with the law. As our report last year showed, this hasn’t always been the case.  As advocates, it is our job to hold the de Blasio administration accountable to this new lead elimination goal.

Protecting the children of NYC from the irreversible damage caused by lead poisoning is one of NYLCV’s top priorities. We will continue to advocate for benchmarks and tracking data to make sure the city reaches its goal of a completely lead-free city.  We look forward to working with our partners to keep this issue a top priority for the administration.

By Talia Sechley and Shachar Sharon