Feds join NYCHA, City Hall in keeping lid on public housing sites that tested positive for lead

By LOUIS FLORES

The chambers of the Hon. U.S. District Court Judge Deborah Batts has not answered a request filed by Progress Queens, seeking judicial intervention in the matter of a request pursuant to the State's Freedom of Information Law, or FOIL.

The Hon. U.S. District Court Judge Deborah Batts in a video report about her judicial work. Source :  In The Life Media/YouTube (Screen Shot)

The Hon. U.S. District Court Judge Deborah Batts in a video report about her judicial work. Source :  In The Life Media/YouTube (Screen Shot)

Progress Queens contacted the chambers of the Hon. U.S. District Court Judge Batts, because efforts by Progress Queens "to report the turth about what NYCHA has known about the exposure to lead and the risk of exposure to lead faced by its tenants" had been frustrated.

In the letter, Progress Queens noted that in a report published by Progress Queens, it was noted that “conclusions reached about the exposure to lead and the risk of exposure to lead for all of NYCHA’s 400,000 tenants rest on a proxy test of 202 children living in NYCHA housing developments and drinking water tested in approximately 175 apartment units.”

The insufficiency of the tests were glaring, and Progress Queens wrote, in relevant part, in its letter to the Hon. U.S. District Court Judge Batts that, "This shows that NYCHA is unaware of the real exposure to lead or the real risk of exposure to lead faced by its tenants."

Since what little information that has been made public has still kept NYCHA tenants in the dark, Progress Queens has been attempting to identify the locations where the children, who had tested positive for elevated blood lead levels, had lived and which NYCHA housing developments showed elevated levels of lead in drinking water.

Several messages were left by Progress Queens for William Delany, the courtroom deputy for the Hon. U.S. District Court Judge Batts, but Mr. Delany never answered any of the messages.

Leading up to the decision by Progress Queens to reach out to the chambers of the Hon. U.S. District Court Judge Batts was the fact that several outstanding requests made by Progress Queens to the U.S. Attorney's Office for New York's southern district, which is reportedly leading the charge to investigate NYCHA in respect of allegations of lead poisoning and possible financial fraud, were not answered.

The U.S. Attorney's Office refused to voluntarily release documents related to its investigation, including those documents related to lead exposure. In rebuffing Progress Queens' information request, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney's Office, James Margolin, asserted that the documents related to lead exposure were "not public documents."

A request made by Progress Queens to interview the Assistant U.S. Attorneys assigned to the NYCHA investigation was denied, given the standing policy by the U.S. Attorney's Office that only U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara was authorised to speak to the press on behalf of the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Consequently, it is not known if the Assistant U.S. Attorneys, Robert Yalen, Monica Folch, and Talia Kraemer, personally agree with keeping a lid on the identification of the NYCHA sites that either tested positive for lead or were the locations, where the children tested for elevated blood lead levels.

In a joint filing made before the Hon. U.S. District Judge Batts on 16 March, the three Assistant U.S. Attorneys wrote that, in seeking documents encumbered by privacy rights, there was a compelling public need for the privacy-encumbered documents to be provided to the U.S. Attorney's Office, writing, in relevant part, that "Production of the information is in the interest of justice."

Despite the implied urgency in the legal filing made before the Hon. U.S. District Court Judge Batts, the U.S. Attorney's Office has subsequently reportedly received the documents but has not released any information identifying which NYCHA sites may have exposed its tenants to lead. The Federal prosecutors have appeared to join the Hon. U.S. District Court Judge Batts, officials with NYCHA, and officials with City Hall in keeping secret the locations where NYCHA tenants may have been exposed to lead.

The actions by Federal and municipal officials to keep secret the NYCHA locations that may have exposed tenants to lead contrasts with efforts by the New York City public school system, which has made a searchable database available online for the public to determine if particular schools may have elevated risks of exposing children to lead. Separately, in the lead-contaminated water crisis that has faced residents of Flint, Michigan, criminal charges were filed against three officials for decisions that contributed to the water crisis and for precautions not taken, according to a report broadcast by the CNN cable news network.

The request for judicial intervention was made by Progress Queens after NYCHA threatened to charge Progress Queens the statutory fee of 25 cents per page of records requested. Since NYCHA had reportedly produced over 400 million records to the U.S. Attorney's Office, the potential charge NYCHA was threatening to assess on Progress Queens ridiculously amounted to $100 million.

Since then, NYCHA has offered to produce nine CD's/DVD's of documents in electronic format to Progress Queens for $21.90. But Progress Queens has countered that it is not known if the documents completely satisfy the FOIL request, particularly relating to documents that identify the locations that may have exposed NYCHA tenants to lead.

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