Friday, November 30, 2018

NYCHA Under Fire Again for Ignoring Lead Abatement Orders

nycha investigation lead abatement
A new investigation found that the New York
City Housing Authority did not just ignore lead inspections,
they also ignored lead abatement orders- putting lives at risk.


This week, a new investigation of the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) uncovered another layer of misconduct that put people's lives in danger. A paper trail shows that for at least twenty years, NYCHA refused to act on hundreds of lead poisoning cases in its public housing units. The investigation also found that NYCHA challenged the New York City Health Department on 95 percent of lead abatement orders placed in the last seven years, putting hundreds of children at risk of severe lead poisoning.

This new development casts an even darker shadow on the agency, which previously made headlines for falsifying lead inspection records and failing to complete federally mandated lead testing. That investigation resulted in six top executives losing their jobs and a $2.2 billion settlement.

Now, it seems that NYCHA did not just ignore lead inspections--they ignored abatement orders, too.

The New York Times interviewed more than 100 current and former housing officials, maintenance workers, building managers health experts, lead contractors and public housing residents. The Times also reviewed thousands of court documents and paperwork between the NYCHA and the New York City Health Department. From 2010 to July of this year, NYCHA challenged  95 percent lead poisoning cases in its housing stock. For comparison, private landlords only contested 4 percent of lead abatement orders during that same time period.

According to the investigation, the Health Department used an X.R.F. analyzer to test homes for lead paint when a child was diagnosed with elevated blood-lead levels. For children living in NYCHA housing, these findings would be challenged when NYCHA sent its own inspectors to the residence. NYCHA lead inspectors used the paint-chip method for its testing.

The accuracy of the paint-chip method has been critiqued by experts, including NYCHA itself. "A false negative can result," Brian Clarke, former NYCHA coordinator, said in a 1999 affidavit.

When NYCHA challenged the Health Department, the Health Department would often reverse its work orders. A spokesman from the New York City Health Department said that the orders were rescinded because the Department was convinced the initial test was a false positive. This feedback loop reinforced NYCHA.

"The authority believed its approach was valid because the Health Department so often rescinded its orders," Stanley Brezenoff, interim NYCHA chairman, said in a recent press release.

By challenging the findings of the Health Department, NYCHA ultimately completed few of these lead abatement work orders. Within the past seven years, the authority estimates less than half of reported cases resulted in abatement. As a result, at least 100 children remained in unsafe homes despite testing positive for elevated blood-lead levels.

Equally alarming, the investigation shows that this practice of challenging the Health Department has persisted for at least twenty years. In an e-mailed statement, an NYCHA spokeswoman said that employees recalled this practice dating back to the late 1990s.

In the previous federal investigation, NYCHA blamed its failure to test for lead paint on a lack of public funds and a lack of manpower. When questioned on its falsification of lead inspection records, NYCHA indicated impossible pressure from federal agents to get the numbers.

Now NYCHA seems ready to own up to the neglect of its 400,000 tenants.

"We are now in a posture of not contesting," Stanley Brezenoff, interim NYCHA chairman, said in a recent press release.

Many NYCHA tenants expressed a desire for the authority to take more action on getting the lead out of its properties.

"It didn't come from me, it came from my place of dwelling, and I can't help the fact that we live here," Shari Broomes, an NYCHA tenant and mother of child who tested positive for lead, said in a recent interview.

To learn more about the investigation, visit the New York Times. To learn more about lead abatement and to get started in this vital career, visit Zack Academy.

Unlicensed Contractors Arrested in CA Fire Zone Sting

A sting operation led to the arrest of ten unlicensed
contractors, who reportedly targeted a community
devastated by previous wildfires.

Earlier this month, ten unlicensed contractors in Northern California were arrested in a sting operation targeted near fire zones. The sting operation was conducted in late October, where suspected unlicensed contractors were invited to provide bids for home improvement jobs on a home in Lake County, California. The jobs ranged from tree removal to deck building. Ten unlicensed contractors gave bids to undercover investigators. The bids ranged from $800 to $4,000; according to California law, a state-issued contractor licensed is required for any job valued at over $500.

The ten suspects were cited and could face up to six months in jail and $5,000 in penalties if charged with a misdemeanor count of contracting without a license. Five of the suspects could also be charged for illegally advertising services without a license to perform said work.

These unlicensed contractors pose a unique risk to their community. Over the past three years, nearly 2,000 Lake County residences have been destroyed by wildfires. The recent Camp Fire and Woolsey Fire have destroyed homes, displaced thousands and killed dozens. The California Contractors State License board noted an influx of contractors pursuing survivors, often stressed and pressed for money, despite lacking the proper credentials.

For homes in "fire zones" or areas that are most at-risk for catching fire, there is an entire set of additional building code and regulations. These regulations don't just protect homes, they save people's lives.

The structural integrity of many homes across California have come into question after nearly 100 fatalities were reported in this year's fire season. Some construction industry experts question whether these fire zones are truly safe to build on, while others question if building materials and building code should be reviewed. With widespread concern for licensed work, there is no doubt that unlicensed work has contributed to the structural failures seen across California.

Unlicensed contractors are not insured. Often times, they have not been properly trained on job site safety. And, unfortunately, the work of unlicensed contractors is often not up to current building code. Besides the risk to clients, unlicensed contractors impose risks such as jail time and fines on themselves.

For consumers, the California Contractors State Licensing Board recommends taking caution against hiring unlicensed contractors.

"Consumers should be sure to take some simple steps before hiring anyone to work in or around their home," David Fogt, California Contractors State Licensing Board Registrar, said in a recent press release.

For anyone performing home repairs and remodeling, its important to make sure you're qualified for the job. With dozens of contractor licensing and renewal options available through Zack Academy, there's no reason for any person on a job site to be unlicensed. Although California's tragedy is an extreme example, the safety of the community should be the priority of all contractors.

To learn more about the sting, read the press release. To learn more about contractor licensing and renewal courses, visit Zack Academy.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

CDC Report Finds Lead in Spices, Herbal Remedies

CDC Spices Lead Poisoning
In a report published by the CDC, health officials found that
spices- not lead paint- were the source of some
cases in a local outbreak of lead poisoning.

Spices and herbal remedies may be an overlooked source of childhood lead poisoning, according to a report published last week by the United Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The report covered a recent outbreak of pediatric lead poisoning cases. Instead of contaminated water from old pipes or lead dust from peeling paint, the investigators found that turmeric, saffron, and chili powder were the ones to blame.

The report comes from the North Carolina Lead Poisoning Prevention Program, which investigated an outbreak of childhood lead poisoning in a local county. Nationally, the number of childhood lead poisoning cases has been decreasing, but this county reported 27 cases in 2013 and then 44 cases in 2017. The cases concerned health officials as many of the children lived in newer housing, which is typically devoid of the obvious lead hazards seen in old homes.

Investigations were conducted in 983 homes in North Carolina over the span of event years. The final report includes data from 61 children and 59 homes. Investigators found that more than half of these homes had no evidence of lead in paint, dust, faucets, or even furniture finish. In seven homes, the only identifiable lead hazard were spices and herbal remedies.

Over 95 percent of the spices consumed in the United States are imported. There is no national limit for heavy metal contamination in spices; as a result, investigators found lead in 63 percent of samples collected from the homes in the report.

Health officials suspect that the spices are contaminated right from growth. According to the CDC, spices are often grown in countries with fewer environmental regulations on leaded gasoline, mining, and battery manufacturing. The lead from these activities can leech into the soil and water used to grow the spices.

Although the investigation cannot definitively say there is lead in everyone's spice rack, the CDC still calls for a maximum lead limit in spices to protect children. Recently, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) set limits on lead in food that children are likely to consume such as juice; however, spices are a gray area.

According to data from the United States Department of Agriculture, the average American child does not consume very many spices. However, the research from this report indicates that the old findings may not apply to children from cultures where spices are used more often in cooking.

In addition to better regulation, the researchers recommend for all health officials to be educated on potential lead hazards in food items in order to better protect their community.

To learn more about the report, visit the CDC website. To learn more about lead poisoning prevention and how to get involved in this important career, visit Zack Academy.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Top 5 Most Cited OSHA Safety Violations

This month, OSHA released preliminary data for its annual
list of most cited violations. Fall hazards topped the list while
the top five violations remained the same as last year.

This month, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) released preliminary data for its annual list of most cited violations. Among the violations, Fall Protection - General Requirements is still the most frequently cited standard for the eighth consecutive year. The top five violations remained unchanged for the fourth consecutive year.

OSHA publishes this list in order to alert employers on potential workplace hazards so that they may identify and fix them before injuries and accidents occur.

"The top ten [list] represents the most frequently cited standards, and they are a good place to start for the employer in identifying hazards in their own workplace," Patrick Kapust, deputy director of OSHA's Directorate of Enforcement Programs, said in a recent press release.

OSHA violations are serious. Almost all of the violations on this list have resulted in a workplace fatality this year. Moreover, penalties and fines for these violations can easily run thousands of dollars- and not just for big businesses.

Here are five of the top ten most cited OSHA violations:

Fall Protection - General Requirements (Standard 1926.501)
Violations: 7,270
According to OSHA, falls are the leading cause of U.S. construction site deaths. Violations of this standard apply to both general and construction industries; employers are required to provide fall protection systems for employees working near surfaces where they can fall six feet or more. This standard also requires protection from falling objects.

Recently, a Florida roofing contractor was fined $134,510 after an employee fell to his death. OSHA stated that the employee was not adequately trained on fall protection and that the company did not perform regular inspections for fall hazards on their jobsites.


Hazard Communication Standard 1910.1200)
Violations: 4,552
This standard has to do with accurately identifying and labeling toxic chemicals, while also training employees on the potential hazards of these substances. Failure to train employees on how to handle hazardous chemicals can lead to fatalities.

Earlier this month, a construction company was fined $28,445 after a worker died when a container of liquefied petroleum exploded. The chemical was stored in an unventilated container, which OSHA investigators determined was from workers not being properly trained on working with this hazardous chemical.


Scaffolds - General Requirements (Standard 1926.451)
Violations: 3,336
Although scaffolding is one of the most commonly used tools on a construction jobsite, there is an inherent risk when it comes to their design, installation and use. This standard includes fall protection regulations for those working on scaffolding 10 feet above a lower level.

A New Jersey contractor was fined $191,215 for multiple scaffolding safety violations, including failure to properly secure scaffolding, failure to provide enough planks for walking, and building some scaffolding too close to power lines. 


Respiratory Protection (Standard 1910.134)
Violations: 3,118
The dusts, fumes, and mists from work areas can lead to serious respiratory disease. Silica dust, asbestos, coal, and cement dust are some of the most widely known toxic particles that can cause emphysema, fibrosis, and other chronic conditions; however, even "safe" particles can cause obstruction or irritation in large enough quantities. As a result, respiratory protection is incredibly important to the overall health of workers. Violations of this standard comes from failure to provide good ventilation and adequate respiratory protection. Additionally, failure to implement a written respiratory protection program and failure to train employees on procedures and equipment are another source of citations against this standard.

In Virginia, a contractor was fined $304,130 for respiratory protection violations involving crystalline silica dust. Among the citations, investigators found that a temporary worker was allowed to remove concrete without being trained on silica hazards.


Lockout/Tagout (Standard 1910.147)
Violations: 2,994
This OSHA standard was created to reduce the dangers of working with equipment that could suddenly restart when performing maintenance or repairs. Violations of these standards come from inadequate or improper "lockouts" which are devices that prevent a machine from turning on, or improper "tagouts" which identify the person who installed the lockout device and is the only person who can remove the lock. This standard is important because many fatal workplace injuries have occurred from machines accidentally being turned on during repairs.

An Alabama steel company was recently fined more than $320,000 for lockout/tagout violations. Investigators found that employees were allowed to work with lock out equipment without being trained on how to perform a lockout/tagout on the equipment.

To view the entire list of violations, check out the ful presentation. To learn more about OSHA safety training, visit Zack Academy

Baltimore Wasted $170K from Lead Paint Fines on Gifts, Travel

An investigative report alleges that the Baltimore Health Department
misappropriated $170,000 in public funds on gifts, travel
and promotional goods for department employees. 

An investigation by the Baltimore inspector general found that the Baltimore Health Department allegedly wasted $170,000 that it raised from lead paint violation penalties on parties, gifts, and travel for staff over the course of two years.

A summary of the investigation was released Wednesday and alleges that $170,000, about half of the funds spend in 2017 and 2018, were spent on excessive travel for the department managers, parties and gifts for staff, and promotional gifts that went unused. The investigation also found that the Baltimore Health Department overcharged attorneys for access to documents to use in lead paint court cases on behalf of lead poisoning victims.

City officials interviewed by the inspector general gave different opinions on how the money generated from penalties should be spent. One official said that the money should only be used for fighting lead poisoning, while another said the money was free to be used for other efforts. 

At the center of the investigation, there seems to be a misunderstanding as to whether the money was considered private funds or public property. One former department executive was recorded in the report as saying the money was raised from "bad landlords" and "it is not city money".

In a statement, the Health Department acknowledged that it had a poor system for keeping track of inventory, but it takes serious issue with the classification of expenditures in the lead fines and fees account as waste. Further, the Health Department said that using the money to buy promotional material was a proper use of funds because they raised awareness of lead poisoning prevention services.

However, the inspector general said that the Baltimore Health Department only stopped ordering promotional items after investigators became aware of how much they already had. Photographs from the investigation show boxes piled high on shelves and stashed in filing cabinets.

"They weren't stopping. It isn't like they were using what they had. It was box after box after box," Isabel Mercedes Cumming, Baltimore Inspector General, said in a recent press release.

Some questionable spending in the report include:
  • Holiday parties and meetings that reportedly cost thousands of dollars.
  • Office snacks including $200 spent on tea and $150 spent on honey.
  • Giveaway items that totaled $120,000. Investigators found stashes of unused promotional items such as 1,200 water bottles, 1,100 earbuds, and 4,500 pens. Many of these items were damaged and unusable.
  • Two business trips that totaled $10,685. Two officials from the Baltimore Health Department traveled to a conference in California and then another conference in New Orleans. In New Orleans, the conference ended on a Thursday afternoon but officials stayed an extra day and used money from the lead fund for their accommodations. 
Baltimore's budget management office, who has been called into question since the investigation broke, iterated a disconnect between the agency's understanding of its lead fund and the public's understand of its lead fund. in In a written response to the inspector general, the office stated that employees of agencies with "special funds" sometimes come to the false conclusion that the money can be spent "as they see fit". 

The budget management office said that it recommends closing the fund containing lead paint violation fines and putting all "special funds" into a general fund. The office also recommends that the Health Department's anti-lead efforts should now be funded through the regular budget.

Beyond questionable spending, Baltimore investigators are concerned over the health department's handling of records. Investigators found that the department was overcharging for access to its records including an unlawful $100 "rush fee".

The Baltimore Health Department maintains medical records on children with elevated blood-lead levels as well as environmental safety records. These records are usually accessed in cases where attorneys are linking lead poisoning cases to a specific address- often on behalf of the lead poisoning victims.

The Baltimore Health Department had been warned multiple times since 2015 by the Baltimore Law Department to update its record request policies, but still had not done so by the time the investigation began.

It is uncertain whether legal action will precede against the Baltimore Health Department; however, there would be legal precedent as a similar case in New York City resulted in a lead paint lawsuit.  Still, from the investigation began last month, the former health commissioner, Dr. Leana Wen, has since left her position.

To read more about the investigation, visit the investigative report. To learn more about lead paint and how to get involved in this field, visit Zack Academy.

NYC DOB Local Law 196 Safety Training Deadlines Extended

The New York City Department of Buildings issued an
update to training requirements and deadlines for
construction workers, supervisors, and competent persons.

Earlier this month, the New York City Department of Buildings issued an update to the training deadlines and requirements for certain construction professionals as part of Local Law 196. These updates affect training requirements for competent persons, as well as training deadlines for certain construction supervisors and workers. The updates have been split into two separate deadlines, one in June 2019 and another in September 2020. Now, construction workers and supervisors who fall under Local Law 196 have an additional seven months to meet the first mandatory training deadline or else face thousands of dollars in fines.

The updates are part of Local Law 196, which was put into effect last year. The law pertains to construction workers and supervisors working on sites that require a designated Construction Superintendent, Site Safety Coordinator or Site Safety Manager. These construction workers or supervisors must have a Site Safety Training (SST) card in order to work on these construction sites.

There are several ways to fulfill the training requirement of the Site Safety Training certification. In general, workers must receive 30 hours of safety training while supervisors must receive 62 hours of training. These trainings must be documented by June 1, 2019 which is the first deadline. Then, workers must receive another 10 hours of safety training by September 1, 2020 which is the second deadline.

The service update also affects training for competent persons. Workers serving as competent persons at construction sites that fall under Local Law 196 must have a Supervisor SST card.

Here are all the NYC DOB updates at a glance:

FIRST DEADLINE - June 1, 2019

Who: Workers
What: Limited Site Safety Training (SST) Card (30 Hours)
When: Next Deadline - June 1, 2019
Expires August 31, 2020

Must meet one of the following:
  • 100-Hour Training Program approved by the DOB
    • with the provision of meeting the course work identified in items 
Where: Zack Academy offers a variety of construction safety training courses recognized by the NYC DOB.


Who: Supervisors
What: Supervisor Site Safety Training (SST) Card (62 hours)
When: Next Deadline - June 1, 2019
Expires after five years and renewable upon applicants showing that they have completed 16 training hours specific by the NYC DOB in the one-year period preceding submission of a renewal application.

Must complete all of the following courses:
Where: Zack Academy offers a variety of construction safety training courses approved by the NYC DOB. As additional courses are made available to comply with the above requirements, we will update this list.



SECOND DEADLINE - September 1, 2020

Who: Workers
What: Site Safety Training Card (40 Hours)
When: 2nd Deadline - September 1, 2020
Expires after five years and renewable upon applicants showing that they have completed 16 training hours specific by the NYC DOB in the one-year period preceding submission of a renewal application.

Must meet one of the following:
  • OSHA 30-Hour Class with 10 hours of additional training:
    • 8-Hour Fall Prevention
    • 2-Hour Drug and Alcohol Awareness
  • 100-Hour Training Program approved by the DOB
    • with the provision of meeting the course work identified in items 
Where: Zack Academy offers a variety of construction safety training courses approved by the NYC DOB.


Training Required for Competent Persons:

  • Workers serving as Site Safety Managers, Site Safety Coordinators, Construction Superintendents, Concrete Safety Managers, and competent persons at construction sites that fall under Local Law 196 must have a Supervisor SST card.
  • Workers servings as competent persons must have a Supervisor SST card if they are responsible for tasks that must be completed by a competent person as required by Chapter 33 of the New York City Building Code or any other applicable regulation.

For more information on Local Law 196, visit the New York City Department of Building's Site Safety Training page. For more information on construction safety classes and how to get certified, visit Zack Academy.

Friday, November 2, 2018

EPA Announces 141 Enforcements, $1.2M in Penalties Last Year

EPA enforcement actions
Last year, the EPA collected $1.2 million in penalties from 141
federal enforcement actions. Many of these fines were from
violations of federal lead paint laws.

Last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced it completed 141 federal enforcement actions over the past year. These enforcement actions were against entities such as contractors, landlords, property managers, and other industry experts who failed to comply with federal lead paint laws. From October 2017 to September 2018, these cases totaled more than $1.2 million in penalties against businesses working with lead paint.

Violations of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) and the Residential Lead-Based Paint Hazard Reduction Act (LHRA) accounted for virtually all of these federal enforcement actions. Under the TSCA, the government has established strict rules about housing and child-occupied facilities built before 1978. One such rule, the Renovation, Repair and Painting (RRP) Rule governs lead-safe work practices and the disclosure of information about lead-based paint to tenants. Companies working with or around lead paint must know these rules or else face legal consequences.

One notable enforcement action of this past year was the case against Magnolia Waco Properties, involving television stars Chip and Joanna Gaines. The Magnolia Homes company agreed to pay a $40,000 fine on top of spending $160,000 to abate lead-based paint hazards in homes across Waco, Texas.

Another notable enforcement action was the against the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), where the nation's largest public housing authority affected at least 400,000 residents through violations of lead-based paint laws. At least 19 children in NYCHA housing were diagnosed with elevated blood-lead levels.

At least one company faced jail time; Stephen Craig of Environmental Training and Assessment in Connecticut was sentenced to six months of imprisonment on top of a $20,000 fine for falsely certifying the completion of a lead abatement course.

These enforcement actions are designed to protect the public from lead paint exposure. Although lead-based paint was banned from residential use in 1978, these properties can expose lead paint through peeling walls, chipped doors, and aging window frames. Lead paint dust can also be generated during the repair or renovation of these old homes if workers do not adopt appropriate lead-safe work practices.

Many of the cases originated from complaints and tips from local authorities including referrals related to children with elevated blood-lead levels.

"EPA's work to enforce federal lead paint laws helps protect communities across the country. These cases also hold violators accountable for their actions and help maintain a level playing field for companies that follow the rules," Susan Bodine, EPA Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Assistant Administrator, said in a recent press release.

Lead paint violations can result in serious fines. To learn more about common EPA fines, read our last blog post. To learn more about EPA's enforcement action announcement, visit the EPA website. To learn more about lead paint certification and how to get involved in this field, visit Zack Academy.