NYC’s Silent Lead Problem

With the Flint water crisis raging, there’s a silent epidemic in our own midst. According to an article by Vox, urban environments face immense, unchecked levels of lead – including here in New York.

Studies of urban soil show that the natural environment itself holds lead residue, left over from earlier  lead1decades in which vehicles commonly used leaded gasoline. This lends itself to a number of dangers to residents, especially those who frequent city parks, community gardens and even backyards.

As far as soil goes, Brooklyn remains a hotbed of contaminants. Another threat, however, looms throughout the city in the form of outdated infrastructure. Apartment buildings constructed before 1978 often contain layers of lead paint, hidden under coats of cleaner materials. When the paint peels, however, paint chips can wind up in children’s hands – and their mouths.

While in 2012 – the last year with available data – only five children qualified for hospitalization due to blood-lead levels, nearly 1000 children under the age of six tested positive for blood-lead levels above 10 micrograms per deciliter that same year. Studies show that just two micrograms of lead can cause ADHD, and more than five can decrease IQ levels by seven points.

Only 41 percent of children receive lead testing as required by law. Some 80 percent of the New York City Housing Authority’s apartments have existed more than 40 years, and likely contain lead within their walls. In theory, the NYCHA honors tenants’ lead paint abatement requests, but the agency has fallen behind on its cases, and in 2013 had nearly 100 outstanding requests – some dating back several years.

The myriad health effects that result from lead poisoning have led to major lawsuits, including a $4.8 million settlement in 2011, awarded to 12-year old girl for a lifetime loss of earning capacity and anticipated pain and suffering.

Getting toxic chemicals like lead out of the environment has long been a focus of NYLCV and we will continue to maintain our vigilance on this issue.