Lead used to be a big part of many of the products that were used to build low-income housing and other homes from the early 1900s up to around 1960. Lead paint was extremely popular throughout the country, and lead also managed to find its way into insulation and some floor coverings.
As the 1960s turned into the 1970s, the public health crisis that was being created by lead and subsequent lead poisoning was starting to find its way into the spotlight. In 1978, President Jimmy Carter forced New York State and government officials to do an emergency evacuation of the area near Niagara Falls, NY known as Love Canal due to the presence of dangerous substances that were dumped in there 20 years earlier, including lead. With the country on edge about lead in everything from the floors to the paint in children’s bedrooms, it was time for state governments to take action.
The Problem With Lead Poisoning
Anyone who ingests lead or breathes in lead dust can develop learning disabilities and a series of other conditions that are permanent. The main concern is for children six years of age and younger whose bodies are still developing. As lead gets into their systems, it can cause problems with the development of their brains and their nervous systems.
However, lead is also unpredictable. For example, the case of the Abdul-Majeed family from the Bronx highlights the hazards of lead and the inconsistency of lead as well. The family was happy to find an apartment it could afford in a low-income housing portion of the Bronx in 2016. The family was even happier to see how clean the apartment looked. However, under the fresh coat of paint the landlord put up in the apartment was lead paint and lead dust that the family could not see.
When the family’s daughter Zoe was found to have levels of lead in her blood that were five times the recommended amount, the family went into action. The New York City Health Department inspected the apartment and found peeling lead paint in the children’s bedroom and lead dust throughout the apartment. Instead of doing any lead abatement and removing the problem, the landlord painted over it and caused an even bigger problem.
The family filed a lawsuit against the landlord who could be liable for negligence, but the suit is still pending. However, what many experts find interesting about the case is that Zoe’s brother shows no signs of elevated lead in his blood. The danger of lead and the unpredictability of lead from person to person is what tends to frustrate health officials and parents.
Lead Problems Around The Country
It is important for people throughout the country to know that the public health issue with lead is not just a New York City problem. In September 2016, Quest Diagnostics released a report indicating that Syracuse has the highest level of lead in the country. The city of Syracuse is denying the results, but even tests done by the Onondaga County Health Department show that the levels of lead in Syracuse are well above the safe levels set by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
For many years in the 1960s and 1970s, government officials around the country tried to ignore the lead problem. One reason for ignoring a possible public health crisis is that lead was literally everywhere in the United States and publicly funded lead abatement projects would cost a great deal of money. But after Love Canal, lead could no longer be ignored and even in the 21st-century lead is a problem that hangs over people’s heads.
New York City Laws Combatting Lead
New York City has an up and down relationship with lead products, especially with lead paint. In 1960, New York City was the first city to ban the sale of lead paint and lead-based products. It looked like New York City was going to lead the way in getting rid of the lead problem, and Local Law 1 looked like it was going to be the primary weapon for getting landlords to take care of this public health menace in low-income housing areas.
Local Law 1 was a comprehensive set of laws that required landlords who owned buildings that contained led to
take on the costs of lead abatement, especially in buildings where small children were known to live. As comprehensive as Local Law 1 was, New York City was not enforcing it and that prompted a lawsuit from health activists.
The result of the decade-long lawsuit was the introduction Local Law 38, which said that any building built before 1960 has lead paint and must be treated as such. Landlords were also required to get rid of any lead paint in apartments where children six years of age and younger were known to be living. By 2003, Local Law 38 was abolished and replaced with a set of less stringent laws that were not widely enforced.
The New York City Health Department has become more active in the enforcement of lead abatement laws, especially in the wake of the water poisoning crisis in Flint, Michigan. With the city of Flint facing an uphill battle in terms of lawsuits and other legal issues, the city of New York has taken on a more active role in responding to lead issues in any part of the city, but especially in the low-income housing area. That is why the city was so quick to respond to the problems experienced by the Abdul-Majeed family in the Bronx, and why the family was able to file a lawsuit.
Suing For Lead Exposure
In 2004, New York City passed a law that made lead paint inspections and any need for lead abatement mandatory. The city started keeping track of problem housing areas, and the number of reported lead paint issues dropped considerably. Unfortunately, lead paint is still a problem, and landlords are still trying to use the idea that they had no idea there was lead paint as a legal protection in court.
With the actions New York City has taken in recent years, the emphasis has been on finding and getting rid of lead paint in schools and low-income housing units. Landlords who attempt to look the other way when they know they have lead in their buildings are slowly starting to get fined and punished by the city itself.
Residents who are battling lead must get their local health department involved if they want to try and sue their landlord. The local health department will run tests and determine if there is a danger of lead in the apartment, and that information can be used in court. The Abdul-Majeed family is using the findings of the New York City Health Department in their lawsuit against their landlord, and they are also using the medical testing results from their doctors.
Children under the age of six should be regularly screened for possible exposure to lead, especially children who live in low-income housing complexes. Nothing can be done until the signs of lead are found in blood tests, and that is when a family can collect the information it needs to expose a negligent landlord and get the compensation it deserves.