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Feds Probe Blood Lead Levels of City's Public Housing Residents

By Alexandra Talty | March 18, 2016 11:04am
 NYCHA under fire as prosecutors investigate safety conditions in public housing.
NYCHA under fire as prosecutors investigate safety conditions in public housing.
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DNAinfo/Nikhita Venugopal

MANHATTAN — Federal prosecutors are investigating environmental and health conditions — including possible lead paint exposure —  in New York City's public housing system, according to a federal judge's order filed Wednesday.

NYCHA's compliance with federal requirements "regarding lead and lead-based paint in public housing," is being probed by prosecutors in US Attorney Preet Bharara’s office, Judge Deborah A. Batts wrote in the order.

New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene must release all "information regarding individuals with elevated blood-lead levels in NYCHA public housing" as well as "unsafe, unsanitary or unhealthful conditions" in homeless shelters and public housing. 

Mayor Bill De Blasio's spokeswoman Karen Hinton told reporters at the St. Patrick's Day Parade that other cities have "much bigger issues with lead paint," citing Philadelphia as a bigger offender, when asked about the issues facing NYCHA. 

Regardless of other city's issues, NYCHA must comply with federal requirements on lead and lead-based paint in pubic housing, according to the letter filed by the US attorney's office. 

According to the EPA, approximately three-quarters of the nation's housing built before 1978 contains some lead-based paint. It is not dangerous if managed effectively. However, if the paint is not handled properly, it can cause lead poising which causes permanent damage to the brain and other organs. 

This investigation began Nov. 20, The New York Times reported.

Prosecutors are also looking into potential fraud in obtaining funds from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, according to the order. This department is a source of funding for NYCHA. 

Mayoral spokeswoman Karen Hinton told the Wall Street Journal that the city plans on cooperating fully with the federal probe. She also cited a report from 2014 in which the city inspected 36 apartments of the 177,666 apartments in the public housing system, or less than 1 percent of units, and found one lead paint hazard.

This month, a survey released on NYCHA found that 63 percent of residents reported something damaged or broken in their homes. The report, released by State Senator Jeffrey D. Klein and chairman of City Council Public Housing Committee Ritchie Torres, polled 200 NYCHA residents door-to-door. In common areas, surveyors documented "egregious" violations including "exposed electrical wiring, mold, and peeling paint," according to the report. 

In the report, Councilman Torres said that it is "imperative" for NYCHA "to be accountable for completing critical repair projects."

The news comes amid a Congressional hearing investigating lead-laced tap water in Flint, Michigan as well as reports of elevated levels of lead in tap water in schools in Newark, New Jersey.