Biggest Overhaul to City Lead Laws Since 2004
In a groundbreaking effort to eliminate childhood lead poisoning in the five boroughs, the City Council on Wednesday will introduce a package of legislation that strengthens, expands and establishes new protections on the city’s lead laws. The proposal is the largest single overhaul of lead laws in 14 years. According to the most recent statistics, some 5,000 children tested positive for high levels of lead in 2016, or about 1.65% of the one to two year olds tested annually as required by state law. The number is down from 12.5% in 2005.
This package of bills will require the city to conduct more thorough investigations when children test positive for high lead blood levels – including in the exposed child’s day care, preschool, and parks and play areas. That expanded investigation process will also for the first time be required if a pregnant woman is found with high blood levels. The package will lower the threshold for what counts as elevated blood lead to 5 micrograms per deciliter (ug/dL), which matches the Centers for Disease Control standard. The city’s current level – which is the standard used to instigate a mandatory investigation – is three times higher.
“We know that we can never be too vigilant when it comes to protecting our children from the dangers of lead. Although we have made great strides reducing lead poisoning cases over the past decade, there are gaps in those laws that have stopped us from truly eliminating this toxic substance from our homes, our water supply, and our soil. This package addresses those gaps and will make our children safer. These bills are truly a team effort, and I want to thank my Council colleagues for all of the hard work putting this together,” said Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who sponsored two of the 23 bills in the package.
Description of the bills are as follows:
Investigating sources of lead poisoning (Speaker Johnson)
Under current law, when a child is found with an elevated blood lead level (BLL), the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) has to look for potential sources, but they are only required to check the child’s apartment for lead paint.
This bill expands the number of places DOHMH is required to check to include –
Other units in the building occupied by children
Other units where the lead-poisoned child spends a significant amount of time.
Child-related facilities (e.g. daycare facilities, preschools/nursery schools, schools, etc.) that the child attends
Parks/play areas that have soil and are near one of the above (or that DOHMH’s investigation suggests that the child visits)
This bill also expands the kinds of lead source DOHMH has to look for so the three main sources of lead exposure are covered –
Paint (lead-based paint that’s peeling or chipped)
SoilInclude pregnant mothers in lead investigation regime
- This bill would require DOHMH to investigate source of lead poisoning when it learns of a pregnant mother with elevated blood lead level (same investigation that would be required above when DOHMH finds a child with an elevated blood lead level).
- Tighten standards for what counts as “elevated” blood lead levels and establish appropriate action levels for lead in paint, soil, dust, and water (Speaker Johnson)
- Water lead levels: There isn’t a locally established “action level” (i.e. a lead level where remediation of some kind is required). This bill sets the City’s action level at the EPA standard -15 parts per billion (ppb)
- Soil lead levels: There are local standards for lead in dust (e.g. dust generated when doing work on an area covered in lead paint), but there aren’t direct local action levels for lead in soil. This bill sets City’s soil action levels at EPA standards – 400 parts per million (ppm) if it’s a play area where children are likely to encounter a lot of bare soil, and 1,300 ppm otherwise
- Lead-based paint and dust – This bill reduces amount of lead acceptable in paint and in dust (following work to remediate lead paint hazard)
- Blood lead levels: This bill sets the City’s threshold for a mandatory DOHMH investigation to be triggered at 5 micrograms per deciliter (ug/dL), which is the same as the Centers for Disease Control. The current city threshold for a mandatory DOHMH investigation is 15 (three times as high).
- Establish lead testing/remediation requirements for facilities that serve children
- Requires checks for lead hazards (paint, soil, and water) in facilities that serve children (e.g. daycare, preschools, nursery schools, other schools)
- This will be addressed through five separate bills sponsored by:
- Council Members Inez Barron. Donovan Richards, Ydanis Rodriguez, Mark Treyger, and Andy King
- Requirements for housing
- Current law
- In multiple dwellings (3+ units) built before 1960 (and certain buildings built before 1978), owner has to do annual checks for lead-based paint hazards (if a child under 6 resides in unit)
- In multiple dwellings built before 1960 and in 1-2 family buildings used as rentals, when apartments turnover (i.e. are vacated by a tenant), owner has to do a check for lead-based paint hazards and remediate (whether a child is moving in or not)
- Package expands those requirements in some key ways –
- Requires that, when apartment undergoes first vacancy that’s 5+ years from now, lead-based paint has to be permanently removed or encapsulated (i.e. end lead paint in apartments)
- Expands periodic checks for lead-based paint hazards to 1-2 family buildings that are used as rentals (instead of just multiple dwellings), if building was built pre-1960
- Requires that, at least once in every five years, required checks for lead-based paint hazards must be done by an independent, third-party certified by EPA
- Requires owners of multiple dwellings and 1-2 family buildings used as rentals to do periodic checks of lead levels in potable water
- Requires owners of multiple dwellings and 1-2 family buildings used as rentals to do periodic checks of lead levels in soil areas onsite
- Parks/playgrounds safety
- Water: Public water fountains can be a significant source of lead. This bill requires periodic lead testing for public water fountains
- Soil: Soil can be a source of lead in children. This bill requires periodic tests of soil areas in public parks/play areas.
- Miscellaneous bills –
- Blood lead screening referrals: This bill would have city agencies that routinely provide services relating to kids (e.g. ACS) determine whether or not the child was screened for elevated blood lead levels and, if not, refer the child to a doctor/local health unit for screening.
- Require that any legally required water test involve a “first draw” in settings not covered by state law/
- Require the City to map where the lead supply mains/service lines are in the City.
- Reporting on enforcement and testing results, effectiveness of City’s lead prevention/enforcement measures (to ensure these laws/rules are being meaningfully enforced).
- Requiring DOHMH to do a comprehensive outreach/education campaign relating to preventing childhood poisoning (including outreach to limited English communities).
- Require better communication between the Department of Buildings, DOHMH, and other relevant City agencies relating to lead safety measures required during work, and clarify mechanism that agencies can use to stop work in order to ensure those measures are in place/being followed.
Why were these bills not sponsored and passed in the previous term of the city council where the majority of the council remains the same?
With that thought in mind what make current council members think that these bills will pass this council term when they could not pass in the previous council under a majority of the same council members?