Thursday, February 14, 2019

New Haven Lawmakers Question Costly Lead Project

apartment building exterior view
New Haven city officials and public advocates are embroiled in a debate
over the costs and process of a single apartment's lead abatement.

In Connecticut, lawmakers and public health officials are engaged in a debate of the possible mismanagement of public funds for lead abatement. The city of New Haven spent $32,000 on the abatement of a single apartment. According to the New Haven Public Department, the abatement was a court-ordered, emergency procedure that was successfully completed; however, lawmakers assert that the project was too costly, too slow, and a symbol of the inadequate response to a growing lead poisoning crisis in Connecticut.

The clash centers around a New Haven apartment, which was recommended for lead abatement in August 2017 after a child tenant tested positive for lead. According to New Haven Health Department officials, Connecticut Supreme Court ordered the health department to take over the project in July 2018 and relocated the child tenant and his family to a nearby hotel for the rest of the project. Between the relocation and the abatement, the total cost of the project amounted to roughly $62,000.

"Nothing was out of the ordinary [about the project]," Paul Kowalski, New Haven City Director of Environmental Health, said in a recent press release.

Lawmakers and advocates disagree. At a City Hall committee hearing, legal aid attorneys from the New Haven Legal Assistance Association (NHLAA) raised the question of why the abatement process took a full year to complete.

"What we're looking for is an open and transparent conversation," Amy Marx, NHLAA attorney, said in a recent press release.

City officials were unable to directly answer why the abatement process took so long. They were also unable to clearly answer why the project ended up in litigation and resulted in a court-ordered emergency abatement.

Regarding the steep project cost, city officials state that the apartment is located in a historic district so the abatement work had to meet certain standards set by the State Historic Preservation Office. Furthermore, the city put a lien against the property after the abatement to recoup the costs. The property was sold for $210,000 which reimbursed the city for the project costs.

"The property was sold, and the city was paid in full for all the money that we put up for the abatement and for the relocation," Frank D'Amore, Deputy Director of the New Haven Livable City Initiative said in a recent press release.

Legal advocates are still concerned over the high price tag, which they imply came from the eleventh-hour abatement. A slow and inconsistent response, they allege, is fueling a lead poisoning crisis in New Haven. The child tenant in question tested at 6 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood back in August 2017, which is already one microgram higher than the federal blood lead level response trigger. By July 2018, the child tenant reached 17 mg/dL.

NHLAA reviewed data from the Connecticut Department of Health and said that there may be more than 350 children in New Haven suffering from lead poisoning in similar situations.

The New Haven Health Department has previously come under fire from three separate state judges. In the past, the city was nearly held in contempt of the court for its inadequate lead paint inspections, its failure to keep electronic records of its lead paint related notes, and its failure to follow up on the status of abated properties.

To learn more about the committee meeting, visit the original article in the New Haven Independent or read the minutes from the New Haven Registrar. To learn more about lead abatement and how to get involved in this important field, visit Zack Academy.

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