Children, Lead Paint and Public Housing: A Potentially Toxic Combination

Forty years ago, 2,600 New York City children tested positive for such high levels of lead in their blood that they required hospitalization. Today, the risk of lead poisoning has been dramatically reduced, thanks to U.S. laws banning the use of lead in paint and gasoline in the 1970s. In spite of these advancements, hundreds of New York City children, especially those residing in public housing, risk exposure to toxic lead levels and long-term health problems.

A Case in Point

In Brooklyn, a two year-old girl living in a New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) apartment was recently found to have dangerously high levels of lead in her blood. City health inspectors located 19 spots in the apartment testing positive for lead. NYCHA inspectors got a different result, claiming that 8 of the 19 spots had tested negative. The disparity between the NYCHA and health department results is troubling. If the NYCHA’s ability to thoroughly and accurately assess lead paint hazards is questionable, can the agency be counted on to effectively address the problem when it arises?

As of April, 2015 the NYCHA has yet to respond to 97 outstanding repair tickets for lead paint abatement in its public housing units. A number of the requests date back to 2011 and 2010, with the oldest having languished for 1,100 days. The Brooklyn toddler, mentioned above, was seen eating paint chips off the floor of the apartment. Her pediatrician has determined the amount of lead in her blood to be four times higher than the acceptable level. The child’s mother has already noticed that she lags behind other two year-olds in speech development.

Lead Poisoning is Hazardous to Children

Lead finds its way into the body when paint chips are ingested or dust is absorbed into the bloodstream. Once in the system, lead can damage red blood cells and carry danger throughout the body. Young children with developing brains and nervous systems are especially vulnerable to lead toxins. Even in small amounts, lead can cause a child to be inattentive, hyperactive and irritable. When exposed to higher levels, a child can exhibit reading and learning problems, growth delays and hearing loss. At very high levels, lead exposure can cause brain damage and even death. Catching and treating lead poisoning early on can reduce the risk of permanent damage.

The Children Most at Risk

In 2012, nearly a thousand New York City children under 6 tested positive for lead poisoning, a third of them with dangerously high levels. Most of these children are poor and minorities—black, Hispanic and Asian. Many of them reside in NYCHA apartments.

Buildings erected after 1978 contain no lead paint. But hundreds of thousands of city apartments are old enough to be tainted, especially those built before 1950. NYCHA oversees 178,000 apartments more than 40 years old, 80 percent of their housing stock. Where lead paint is present, even if it has been painted over several times, it can invade the environment as paint chips or dust.

What You Can Do

By law, city landlords in older buildings are required to identify and fix lead paint problems in apartments where young children are living. City tenants living in multiple dwellings should notify landlords of any children under 6 residing with them. This is especially important in buildings erected before 1960 and between 1960 and 1978. Tenants should immediately report peeling paint to the landlord or call 311 if the landlord fails to fix it. Tenants in older apartments with young children should also consult their pediatricians about whether to test their children’s lead levels.

If your child has been harmed by lead paint and/or your landlord has failed to remedy the condition, contact a New York lead paint attorney at the Orlow Firm. Our attorneys are highly knowledgeable about lead paint hazards, especially in NYCHA buildings and apartments. The initial consultation is free. For your convenience, we maintain four offices throughout New York City. Call 866-959-7202 or contact us online.