Feds mum as report reveals Brooklyn children testing positive for blood lead levels at rate higher than in Flint

 Metro Plaza North, a public housing development in the Manhattan neighborhood of Spanish Harlem, was the site of an apartment where drinking water tested highest for lead levels, according to Government records provided to Progress Queens in response to a Freedom of Information Law request. When Progress Queens filed an open records request for documents about drinking water service line replacements in the area surrounding Metro Plaza North, officials with the Municipal water regulatory authority constructively denied the release of such records. Source : Louis Flores/Progress Queens/File Photograph

Metro Plaza North, a public housing development in the Manhattan neighborhood of Spanish Harlem, was the site of an apartment where drinking water tested highest for lead levels, according to Government records provided to Progress Queens in response to a Freedom of Information Law request. When Progress Queens filed an open records request for documents about drinking water service line replacements in the area surrounding Metro Plaza North, officials with the Municipal water regulatory authority constructively denied the release of such records. Source : Louis Flores/Progress Queens/File Photograph

By LOUIS FLORES

Lawyers with the U.S. Attorney's Office, who are reportedly leading a wide-ranging, Federal investigation into the physical condition standards at the New York City Housing Authority, are remaining mum about a new report, showing that children in some Brooklyn neighborhoods are testing positive for blood lead levels at -- or higher than -- children living in Flint, Michigan, site of a recent public health crisis over toxic drinking water. The press office servicing the Federal prosecutors' office in Manhattan declined to answer advance questions submitted by Progress Queens for this report.

The news report about Brooklyn children living with elevated blood lead levels was broadcast by the public radio station WNYC 93.9 FM. The reported revealed that, "According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's most recent data, 5,400 children tested above the threshold for elevated blood lead readings. The worst cases cluster in Brooklyn, but dangerously high blood lead levels were also found in Washington Heights, Harlem and Queens."

The WNYC report was undergirded by a report, published by the Reuters news wire service, which made public some findings of an analysis of blood level tests. The Reuters report noted that when young children are exposed to lead, it results in development delays.

The reporting of high blood lead levels comes in the wake of numerous reports, questioning the safety of New York City's drinking water. After Shola Olatoye, the public housing agency chair, testified at a New York City Council budget hearing that several apartments at public housing developments tested positive for lead in drinking water at levels that exceeded a Federal action level, Progress Queens sought and published information about the location and results of the water testing for lead in public housing developments. A separate Progress Queens report raised questions about an upward trend in various water tests for lead that City officials would not explain. An open records request filed by Progress Queens that sought records about lead service line replacements around the Manhattan neighborhood of Spanish Harlem was constructively denied, in part, by the Municipal water regulatory authority. Studies have shown that lead service line replacements, even when the replacements are only partial replacements, can disturb lead particles in pipes and lead to spikes in lead levels in drinking water. Massive construction projects may trigger service line replacements.

In recent years, The New York Times and WNYC have been separately reporting about water testing at New York City public schools, including how New York City was allegedly manipulating water test results, with WNYC having to flip-flop between two reports on the presence of lead in water. In 2016, WNYC broadcast a report that noted that few New York City schools saw high levels of lead, adding that, "New York City is giving the all-clear signal when it comes to drinking water in its public school buildings." Then, almost one year later, WNYC reported that high levels of lead were reported in New York City public schools, noting that lead was being detected in the water fountains at public schools. For its part, The New York Daily News has been publishing reports about the risks to public housing tenants from the exposure to lead paint.

In the time since Progress Queens requested, received, and reviewed information about NYCHA's property maintenance logs, reports have been published about how many complaints made by tenants about physical conditions standards were marked "Closed" without any accounting of what action was taken to resolve tenants' complaints. NYCHA made two large production of records to Progress Queens, with the second containing information about 20 times more tenants' complaints about lead than the first. The maintenance logs also showed that many tenants complained about toxic living conditions other than lead, including mold, mildew, and plumbing leaks. The existence of the reported Federal investigation into NYCHA's physical condition standards came to light at a time when advocates for public housing had lost faith in the political will of elected officials to save New York City's public housing authority, the largest in the nation. However, the reported Federal investigation into NYCHA's physical condition standards has apparently dragged on without the announcement of any information about its progress.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Robert Yalen, Monica Folch, and Talia Kraemer were reportedly leading the Federal investigation into NYCHA, at least in the beginning. In a joint filing made before the Hon. U.S. District Judge Deborah Batts on 16 March 2016, the three Assistant U.S. Attorneys wrote that, in seeking a Court order for NYCHA to produce municipal health records, there was a compelling public need for the privacy-encumbered documents to be provided to the U.S. Attorney's Office. The three Federal prosecutors wrote in their Court filing, in relevant part, that, "Production of the information is in the interest of justice."

Officials, who had knowledge of the risks that exposure of lead posed to residents but who took no action to mitigate those risks, have faced efforts to hold officials accountable for the dangerous consequences for inaction. 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. 

Elected and appointed officials with discretion over the direction of New York City's public housing authority have preferred to support plans to convert public housing into Section 8 housing in order to open the door to privatisation of the City's large stock of public housing. NYCHA owns a portfolio of about 200,000 apartments that house an estimated 400,000 tenants. The privatisation effort has the support of Mayor Bill de Blasio (D-New York City) and New York City Councilmember Ritchie Torres (D-Fordham). NYCHA faces a capital improvement budget deficit estimated to be as large as $17 billion, and City officials appear to support the privatisiation of public housing rather than raising the money to save public housing. New York City's public housing authority was founded after the turn of the last century, in the wake of the last Progressive Era and during the Great Depression, when citizens agreed that housing was a human right.

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