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 A spokesman from the New York City Health Department said that the orders were rescinded because the Department was convinced the initial test was a false positive.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.

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