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Comptroller Launches Probe After 820 NYCHA Kids Tested High for Lead

More than 800 children living in NYCHA housing tested positive for lead poisoning, despite the city's previous claims that only 19 children had shown concerning levels. NYCHA Grant Houses.

More than 800 children living in NYCHA housing tested positive for lead poisoning, despite the city's previous claims that only 19 children had shown concerning levels.

NYCHA, Grant Houses
NYCHA Grant Houses. Photo: Wikimedia

More than 800 children aged five and under living in NYCHA housing have tested positive for lead poisoning, despite previous claims by the city that only 19 children have been found with elevated levels in the last ten years, according to the Daily News. Moreover, the article claims that the city was aware of the fact, but chose "not to count hundreds of children with elevated lead levels for whom the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention recommend public health intervention."

On the heels of these revelations, NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer announced on Sunday that his office will begin an investigation to look into the city's methods of tracking and addressing lead poisoning hazards.

"This deception must end today," said Stringer. "It is horrifying that the Department of Health kept this information under wraps and it is outrageous that the city continues to justify and minimize this scandal. Agencies must be held accountable for coordinating and following all laws as well as best practices to keep our kids safe and healthy."

Other elected officials also issued harsh criticism. Public Advocate Tish James called the recent news "disgraceful and inexcusable."

"I am renewing my call for free lead testing for every child who has lived at NYCHA in the past six years," said James. "This lead testing should be conducted independently by the State Department of Health and the public should be apprised of its results."

In response, Mayor Bill de Blasio, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and the NYC Department of Health (DOH) announced on Sunday more stringent measures to reduce childhood lead exposure by expanding the city's environmental investigations program for all children under 18 years old with a blood lead level (BLL) of 5 micrograms per deciliter.

During an environmental investigation a DOH investigator interviews families and inspects their homes to determine possible sources of lead exposure, which can include lead-tainted cooking ware or toys, peeling paint, food products or contamination from a parent's place of work. Currently, the families of children with a BLL of 5 mcg/dL and their health care providers just "receive guidance from the department on how to reduce exposure," according to a statement from the mayor's office.

City officials were also quick to state that the DOH has already begun to conduct these investigations for children in public housing and will be expanding the program beyond NYCHA residents by the end of the year.

"This expansion of the investigation program follows the introduction of City Council legislation aimed at revamping the city's current lead laws to make children safer, including lowering the threshold for intervention by the city to align with the Centers for Disease Control standard of 5 micrograms per deciliter," said Council Speaker Johnson. "These measures, along with strict enforcement of existing laws, will help bring the number of children with high lead levels in the city down to the ultimate goal of zero."