After the Department of Education released data that revealed 938 classrooms contained lead paint, two City Council members pushed for gymnasiums, cafeterias and other school spaces to be tested—but Mayor de Blasio would not consent to the request.
In late July, the agency announced that it had visually assessed all 797 school buildings built before 1985 for lead paint that serve children under 6. The substance is especially dangerous to young children who are exposed to it for a long period of time, as they can develop serious health problems, including developmental delays.
Reacted to Housing Heat
The Mayor has taken a “Vision Zero” approach to eliminate childhood lead exposure within the next decade after being inundated with criticism related to reports that 1,160 children living in public housing had tested positive for elevated blood-lead levels.
This was the first time the DOE has publicly released data related to lead paint in classrooms, but the agency has come under fire from parents and community groups who contended that it did not do enough to inform affected families.
Although the DOE plans to remediate those classrooms prior to the beginning of the school year, the Council was informed by the agency that stairwells, hallways libraries and other shared spaces were not tested for the hazardous substance. City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and Education Committee Chair Mark Treyger wrote a letter to Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza Aug. 14 calling on him to begin testing non-classroom spaces.
“Lead-based paint was banned in New York City in 1960, so it is unfathomable that children are still being exposed to lead in 2019,” the letter stated. “How can our city eradicate lead in less than 10 years if DOE is not diligently examining all school spaces for lead contaminants?”
Mayor Downplays Hazard
At an Aug. 15 press conference announcing an easier application process for city public middle- and high-schools, Mr. de Blasio insisted that potential lead contamination in school stairwells and other shared spaces did not pose a major health threat.
“You have to have meaningful exposure, which means we focus on where kids are the most,” he said. “If you're, for example, walking through a hallway and you're just walking through, you don't get lead chips in your mouth walking through a hallway or lead dust on you walking through a hallway. The real question is the classrooms.”
The Mayor added that the DOE would “evaluate” the Council Members’ suggestions.
“We have to believe there's an actual problem and specific need to go after it, but, if we find it, we will,” he said.
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