Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Amid Concerns about Lead Poisoning, Focus Turns to Public Housing

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Amid Concerns about Lead Poisoning, Focus Turns to Public Housing

Article excerpt

Federal prosecutors in New York are conducting a wide-ranging investigation into health and safety conditions, particularly elevated blood lead levels, in the city's public housing and homeless shelters.

The investigation, disclosed Wednesday in a letter from Preet Bharara, the US attorney for the Southern District of New York, and affirmed in a federal judge's order, calls for the city's health department to produce information about cases of lead paint exposure that led to elevated blood lead levels.

It also calls for information about "unsafe, unsanitary, or unhealthful," conditions in public housing and shelters, The New York Times reports.

The probe comes amid renewed focus on lead poisoning following an ongoing crisis involving exposure to lead in tap water in Flint, Mich., as well as heightened scrutiny of conditions in New York's public housing accommodations. However, exposure to lead paint in federally subsidized housing isn't just a New York problem, advocates for stricter controls say.

At issue is the fact federal housing policy doesn't require housing authorities to take action to move tenants, especially children, found to be exposed to lead until the amount of lead in their bloodstream reaches 20 micrograms per deciliter.

That's far below the level at which the Centers for Disease Control recommends action be taken, which is 5 micrograms per deciliter for children aged 1 to 5.

In Chicago, that gap between the federal standards and the agency's recommendations has affected at least 178 children living in publicly-funded housing since 2012, the Chicago Tribune reports.

"They treated me like I was nothing, like my daughter didn't matter," Lanice Walker, whose 4-year-old daughter was diagnosed with a blood lead level of 11 only months after she moved from public housing to a private rental in the city's Austin neighborhood told the paper.

Much of her rent was paid for by a voucher for the city's public housing authority, leaving her no other alternative options to move when she began to suspect that high lead levels in her home were affecting the health of her children.

The Chicago Housing Authority has promised to address the gap, but the authority had also allowed landlords to request indefinite extensions to fix lead paint hazards, the Tribune reports. …

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