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City Official Accuses De Blasio Administration Of Cover-Up In NYCHA Lead Paint Scandal

July 02, 2018 - 10:19 am
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NEW YORK (WCBS 880) -- City Comptroller Scott Stringer is investigating claims that hundreds of children in New York City public housing suffered lead poisoning.

A Daily News investigation revealed that the city had been aware of as many as 820 children under the age of 6 living in public housing testing positive for elevated lead levels between the years of 2012 and 2016.

Bronx City Councilman Ritchie Torres (D-15th), the former chairman of the public housing committee, says the New York City Housing Authority and the Health Department previously testified that there were only 19 children who had dangerously high levels of lead in their blood.

He is accusing the mayor of a cover-up.

"If it emerges that both Housing Authority officials and Health Department officials lied to the federal government in the course of an investigation then there's certainly criminality and there should be criminal prosecution," Torres said. "The de Blasio administrations has systematically misled the public about the full extent of lead poisoning and lead exposure in public housing."

Public Advocate Letitia James called it criminal, renewing her call for free independent lead testing of NYCHA kids.

"There appears to be a pattern and a practice of deception, but at the end of the day it's really not about blame it's about holding them accountable for the monies that they've received, making sure that these children are tested, fixing the conditions of public housing, making sure that there's a timetable and holding this administration accountable," James said. "I don't know if it's criminality, I know it's perhaps benign neglect, and at this point in time my interest and my focus is really on the children."

Stringer has launched an investigation into the city's procedures for addressing lead poisoning hazards.

As WCBS 880’s Kevin Rincon reported, Stringer wants to examine how the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene tracks reports of lead poisoning in kids. He said they may have known about the children harmed in NYCHA buildings, but no one else did.

He is also critical of City Hall for coming clean only after a $1 billion settlement with the federal housing authority.

“This deception must end today. 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," Stringer said.

Stringer said he also wants to look at lead exposure elsewhere such as shelters, daycares, and playgrounds.

“What’s happening in NYCHA could be happening in other buildings around the city,” he said.

Over the weekend, City Hall announced tougher standards that lower the threshold for triggering an inspection and lead paint remediation from 10 mcg/dL to 5 mcg/dL.

"Lead poisoning is down almost 90 percent since 2005. But that's not good enough. We've already made our testing protocols stricter for kids in public housing and we are now extending that standard to the entire City. It's our job to always push the envelope when it comes to our kids' health," said de Blasio.

The Mayor’s office said Stringer was reacting to a tabloid headline instead of public health evidence.

“It is unfortunate that City Hall has used political spin to cover up what’s at the root of this problem,” Stringer said.

Meanwhile, another new report out Monday said the cost of fixing up the New York City Housing Authority is nearly double earlier estimates.

 “It’s $31.8 billion over five years – so, you know, just shy of $32 billion. And if you extrapolate that over 20 years, it’s $45 billion,” said Sally Goldenberg, who covers real estate for Politico New York.

Goldenberg said the figure is double an estimate from six years ago.

“You know, they have to do this report every five years or so, and so the previous one was just under $17 billion, so yeah, it’s almost double it,” Goldenberg told WCBS 880’s Steve Scott and Joe Avellar.

Goldenberg said in this case, the figure not refers to lead abatement, but to all capital repairs.

“You know, that could be anything from like broken elevators to boilers; you know, last winter, there were major heat outages all across NYCHA because of outdated heating plant equipment – boilers and other accessory equipment – so it would be to replace all of that; lobby areas; common areas; the interiors of apartments; fixing leaks that cause mold; so it’s really just everything,” she said.

Goldenberg noted that most of the NYCHA buildings were built before 1970.

“If you don’t have enough money to do upkeep, that just builds and builds over time,” she said. “You’re always playing catch-up – you’re never getting ahead.”