After disclosing earlier this summer that 938 classrooms had lead paint, the Department of Education announced that further inspections revealed the hazardous substance was found in another 920 classrooms, drawing concerns from one Council Member who compared the situation to the previous mishandling of lead-paint contamination at the Housing Authority.
The DOE’s initial findings were based upon a visual assessment that took place at the end of the most-recent school year of 5,408 rooms used by kindergarteners and children in the universal pre-K and 3-K program in school buildings constructed before 1985.
Hazard to Youngsters
Long-term lead-paint exposure is especially dangerous for children younger than 6, who can develop serious health problems, including developmental delays. This school year marked the first time that classrooms used by first graders—some of whom are still 5 at the beginning of the school year—were checked.
Another 3,000 classrooms were inspected last month: classes used by District 75 special-education students, and additional first-grade classrooms. The DOE released the results of the latter tests Aug. 29, revealing that the number of rooms containing lead paint was double the total previously reported.
“Our schools are safe and this summer we’ve successfully remediated all impacted classrooms in time for the first day,” Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza said two days prior to the school year’s Sept. 5 start. “We’re taking the next step in enhancing our protocols by inspecting, testing and remediating cafeterias and libraries serving kids under 6 in the next year.”
It is unknown if any gyms, cafeterias and other common spaces contain lead-paint that requires remediation because they were not part of the recent rounds of inspections. That sparked backlash from several City Council Members, as well as from parents and community groups, who also contended that it did not do enough to inform affected families.
Mr. Carranza has insisted that "the sky isn't falling" and that the agency has "gone above and beyond" to keep children safe.
Council Member Mark Treyger, who chairs the Education Committee, worried that there were some “concerning parallels” between the latest developments at the DOE and lead-paint contamination at NYCHA.
‘No Problem’ Was Lie
“We were told initially with NYCHA there was no problem, only to find that NYCHA lied under oath. And then we learned that we had a lead crisis in NYCHA apartments,” he said.
NYCHA officials do not know how many apartments housing children under 6 contain lead paint, and the agency has kicked off inspections at 135,000 apartments using advanced X-ray equipment. The de Blasio administration has faced intense backlash over lead-paint contamination in NYCHA apartments since the city Department of Investigation revealed late in 2017 that disgraced former HA Chair Shola Olatoye falsely reported to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development a year earlier that it had conducted thousands of lead-paint inspections that never happened dating back to 2012.
Mayor de Blasio insisted at the time of DOI’s report that from 2014—the beginning of his first term—through 2016, only four children had blood-lead levels that required NYCHA to abate their apartments, despite being briefed hours earlier that between 2010 and 2015, 202 children under the age of 6 had elevated lead levels.
Real Total 1,160
Last summer it was revealed that 1,160 children living in public housing tested positive for elevated blood-lead levels after lead-paint inspections had stopped for years.
Despite several Council Members urging the DOE to inspect school stairways and other common spaces in order to ensure that all of the lead paint was remediated, Mr. de Blasio initially downplayed the concerns that potential lead contamination in these shared spaces could pose a health threat.
But on Aug. 29, Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia, who was named Senior Adviser for Citywide Lead Prevention, promised that the agency would reform its policies related to inspecting common areas.
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