Gianaris urges NYCHA to conduct lead testing in Queens

State Sen. Michael Gianaris criticized NYCHA for excluding Queens from the first phase of its systemwide lead-testing initiative.  Eagle  file photo by Jonathan Sperling.

State Sen. Michael Gianaris criticized NYCHA for excluding Queens from the first phase of its systemwide lead-testing initiative. Eagle file photo by Jonathan Sperling.

By David Brand

A second Queens lawmaker has written a letter to NYCHA in response to the Eagle’s reporting on the lack of lead testing in the borough’s public housing complexes.

State Sen. Michael Gianaris criticized NYCHA for excluding Queens from the first phase of its systemwide lead-testing initiative. The city announced in April that contractors would test for lead in all 134,000 NYCHA apartments built before lead paint was banned, with special priority given to complexes that have the most households with children under 6.

NYCHA has so far tested 8,052 apartments, but not a single one of those units is located in Queens — though several Queens complexes have among the highest number of households with young children. Ingesting lead, even in miniscule doses, can cause lasting brain damage, and children are especially vulnerable.  

“I write to express my frustration with the lack of progress of NYCHA’s lead testing,” Gianaris wrote. “It was recently reported in the Queens Daily Eagle that, despite promising comprehensive testing and prioritizing developments with the most children, testing did not occur at three developments in my district with large numbers of children — Queensbridge, Ravenswood and Astoria Houses.”

The Ravenswood Houses have the fifth-most households with children under 6 in the city, according to NYCHA demographic data, but they are not scheduled to undergo testing until later this summer.

The Astoria Houses have 137 households with children under 6. They are not scheduled to undergo lead testing until the fall.

The Queensbridge Houses, the largest public housing site in North America, have a combined 345 households with children under 6, by far the most in the city for any one site. NYCHA, however, divides the complex into North and South sites. 

Queensbridge North — which has 173 households with children under 6 — is not scheduled for lead testing until the fall. Queensbridge South, with 172 households with children under 6, is not included on NYCHA’s testing schedule. 

“Parents deserve to know if their children are safe in their homes. Our community cannot afford any more NYCHA delays,” Gianaris told the Eagle. “I urge this testing to be completed expeditiously and the results made public thereafter.”

Earlier this month, U.S. Rep. Grace Meng also wrote a letter to NYCHA urging the agency to expedite lead testing in Queens, particularly at the Pomonok Houses in her district. 

“In these houses, each of the more than 300 children under 6 are threatened by the dangers of lead poisoning,” Meng said. “I urge you to expedite the testing process throughout the city and begin testing in Queens as soon as possible.”

The Edenwald Houses in the Bronx have 280 households with children under 6, the most in the city, according to NYCHA’s data. But the complex has not yet undergone lead testing as part of the city’s plan. NYCHA said that it is because the apartments were exempted by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.

NYCHA told the Eagle it still prioritizes testing at complexes with the most households with children under 6, so long as they were not exempted by HUD. Pomonok and Ravenswood were not exempted.

The companies contracting with the city to conduct the testing use a tool known as X-ray fluorescence, or XRF.

“The Authority’s unprecedented XRF testing initiative was launched in April so that we could definitively determine whether lead-based paint hazards exist in homes that have not previously been tested and showed no presence of lead,” a NYCHA spokesperson told the Eagle Tuesday. “Not only will this effort allow us to test the homes that most urgently need testing, but it also helps create an accurate roadmap for a lead-free NYCHA.”