NYCHA lead-testing plan has yet to reach sites with the most kids under 6

The Queensbridge Houses have 347 households with children under 6 years old, according to NYCHA data. They have not yet been tested in NYCHA’s citywide lead testing initiative. Photo by Metrocentric via Wikimedia Commons

The Queensbridge Houses have 347 households with children under 6 years old, according to NYCHA data. They have not yet been tested in NYCHA’s citywide lead testing initiative. Photo by Metrocentric via Wikimedia Commons

By David Brand

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced in April that the city would begin a vast lead-testing initiative in every single NYCHA complex built before lead paint was banned, with priority given to complexes with the highest number of households with children under 6.

But according to data obtained by the Eagle via a Freedom of Information Law request, most of the complexes with the highest number of households with children under 6 have yet to be tested — more than three months after the initiative began.   

After the city failed for decades to test and remove lead paint from public housing units, de Blasio said the new testing program would reach all 134,084 city apartments built before 1978 — the year lead paint was banned — by the end of 2020. 

See the NYCHA dataset on the number of households with children under age 6 here.

So far, 16 complexes have undergone testing, according to a testing schedule on the NYCHA website. 

Population data obtained from NYCHA shows that only three of the 16 tested complexes — Castle Hill and Marble Hill in the Bronx and the Van Dyke Houses I in Brooklyn — were among the top 20 in terms of number of households with children under 6 years old. The data is up-to-date as of May 30.

Edenwald Houses in the Bronx has 280 households with children under 6 — the most of any NYCHA complex —  but the complex is not included in the city’s testing schedule. Nor are the Butler Houses in the Bronx, with the second-highest number of households with children under 6 (267). The Van Dyke Houses in Brooklyn, with the third-highest total (262), were tested in the spring.

NYCHA said Edenwald and Butler were exempted from testing by the Department of Housing and Urban Development and do not yet appear on the city’s testing schedule. NYCHA is prioritizing complexes that were not previously exempted by HUD and have the most apartments with children under the age of 6, the agency said. After testing those developments, x-ray fluorescence, or XRF, testing will begin at sites exempted by HUD and sites exempted by HUD where no registered children under age 6 live — namely, senior housing complexes.

See the data obtained from NYCHA below:

A NYCHA spokesperson told the Eagle in April that none of the developments with the highest number of apartments with children under age 6 are located in Queens. But the population data shows that two of the top 10 are — and neither have been tested yet.

The Pomonok Houses, located near Queens College, have the fourth-highest number of households with children under 6 as of May 30 (257), closely followed by the Ravenswood Houses in Long Island City, which have 237 households with children under 6. Both are scheduled to undergo testing this summer, according to the NYCHA testing schedule.

Not a single NYCHA site in Queens has undergone testing as part of the city’s initiative.

“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. “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.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio holds a portable x-ray fluorescence analyzer used to test for lead-based paint as he announces a plan to test at 135,000 nycha apartments in April. Photo by Michael Appleton/Mayoral photography

Mayor Bill de Blasio holds a portable x-ray fluorescence analyzer used to test for lead-based paint as he announces a plan to test at 135,000 nycha apartments in April. Photo by Michael Appleton/Mayoral photography

There have been problems in the process for identifying apartments where children under age 6 live, according to a report released by a federally mandated monitor on Monday.

“Specifically, we took issue with how NYCHA calculates the number of non-exempt apartments where children under six years of age either reside or regularly visit,” monitor Barry Schwartz wrote in his team’s report, which was published by Politico. “NYCHA must make a better effort to identify these at-risk children.” 

So far, 6,528 units have been tested — less than 5 percent of the total number — and the city awaits results from 4,321 of those.

Of the 2,207 apartments where the results were recorded, 1,604 tested positive for lead, according to NYCHA’s data.

“We’re in this position because of a pattern of mismanagement and neglect, and we need an aggressive lead remediation approach to protect our children,” said Comptroller Scott Stringer. “We’re defined as a city by how we treat our kids, and we can’t afford anything less than full transparency and complete accountability.”

A report published by the Department of Health in April found that 4,717 total children tested positive for blood-lead levels of 5 micrograms per deciliter in New York City in 2018, including 138 kids who live in NYCHA apartments. The Centers for Disease Control considers a lead level of 5 mcg/dcl particularly dangerous, but indicates that no blood-lead level is safe.

More than 2,400 children living in NYCHA apartments have tested with elevated blood-lead levels since 2010, according to annual data.

The current testing process has moved slower than planned. THE CITY reported Monday that NYCHA did not meet a May 1 deadline to declare roughly 3,000 apartments with children under 6 “clear” of lead.

The Pomonok Houses have the fourth-most households with children under 6 years old among the city’s hundreds of NYCHA complexes. Photo by JDtheOne via Wikimedia Commons

The Pomonok Houses have the fourth-most households with children under 6 years old among the city’s hundreds of NYCHA complexes. Photo by JDtheOne via Wikimedia Commons

The rate of lead poisoning has decreased significantly in private and public housing since 2010, but even one child with lead poisoning is too many, said attorney Reuven Frankel, who represents individuals poisoned by lead.

Frankel cited a 2004 law designed to bring lead contamination to zero by mandating that landlords who own buildings built before 1960 — or before 1978, if lead paint is present — conduct annual reviews and remove lead paint in all apartments with children under 6.

“Obviously the landlords share a tremendous amount of responsibility because they’re not following the law, but we also know the city of New York is not enforcing the law,” Frankel said.