Biggest Overhaul to City Lead Laws Since 2004

City Hall, NY – 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 (Councilmember Daniel Dromm is the sponsor of this portion)
        • 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)
        • Water
        • Soil
  • Include pregnant mothers in lead investigation regime (Council Member Carlina Rivera)
    • 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)
    • 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).
    • 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)
  • 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 Member Inez Barron
      • Council Member Donovan Richards
      • Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez
      • Council Member Mark Treyger
      • Council Member 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 –
      • Paint-
        • 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) (Council Member Margaret Chin)
        • 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 (Council Member Stephen Levin)
        • 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 (Council Members Ritchie Torres and Mark Treyger)
      • Water
        • Requires owners of multiple dwellings and 1-2 family buildings used as rentals to do periodic checks of lead levels in potable water (Council Member Alicka Ampry-Samuel)
      • Soil
        • Requires owners of multiple dwellings and 1-2 family buildings used as rentals to do periodic checks of lead levels in soil areas onsite – two bills, one sponsored by Council Member Costa Constantinides and another sponsored by Council Member Rafael Salamanca
  • Parks/playgrounds safety
    • Water: Public water fountains can be a significant source of lead. This bill requires periodic lead testing for public water fountains
      • Council Members Mark Levine, Costa Constantinides and Jimmy Van Bramer
    • Soil: Soil can be a source of lead in children. This bill requires periodic tests of soil areas in public parks/play areas.
      • Council Member Constantinides
  • Miscellaneous bills –
    • Blood lead screening referrals (Council Member Robert Cornegy): 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 (Council Member Joseph Borelli)
    • Require the City to map where the lead supply mains/service lines are in the City (Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer)
    • Reporting on enforcement and testing results, effectiveness of City’s lead prevention/enforcement measures (to ensure these laws/rules are being meaningfully enforced) (Council Member Ritchie Torres)
    • Requiring DOHMH to do a comprehensive outreach/education campaign relating to preventing childhood poisoning (including outreach to limited English communities) (Council Member Daniel Dromm)
    • 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 (Council Members Margaret Chin and Ritchie Torres)

“This has been an ongoing issue and we have given the DOE and other agencies latitude in addressing the problem. At this time, it is clear that stricter protocols and prevention measures must be in place to protect student drinking water at all NYC Schools. With respect to my bill, the fact that we have ever allowed ‘flushing’ to take place is absurd and goes against all common sense,” said Council Member Joseph Borelli.

“We have known for years that exposure to lead can create significant public health risks. My legislation will give the public information about where lead pipes are by requiring the City to create an interactive map identifying these pipes throughout the City that will be accessible to the public at any time. This information and the rest of this package of legislation is a powerful step by the Council to ensure the safety of everyone in the City,” said Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer. 

“When lead was taken out of consumer products, it was considered to be one of the greatest environmental victories of the 20th Century. Yet, its toxic legacy lingers on decades later as lead dust from gasoline is still found in our parks, playgrounds, and our front yards. That so many New Yorkers are still at risk is not just a health issue, but an environmental justice issue as well. Poorer communities and communities of color are often the most exposed to lead hazards. This groundbreaking package of legislation will make a huge difference in the lives of our children and generations to come. I thank Speaker Corey Johnson and my Council colleagues for their leadership on this critical environmental issue,” said Council Member Costa Constantinides, Chair of the Environmental Protection Committee.

“One of the most common hazards to children in our Day Care facilities is exposure to lead in water, paint and dust. This Council is committed to ensuring the utmost safety for our children, and this package of legislation sends that message loud and clear to the administration,” said Council Member Andy King.

“From even before our children take their first steps, we must ensure their homes are safe and free of lead. We know the first few years of life are critical to long term development. This package if bills is an ambitious step towards safe guarding the most vulnerable New Yorkers. I applaud the Speaker on prioritizing the health and long term success of our City’s families,” said Council Member Stephen Levin.

“Protecting young children from harmful exposure to lead must be a high priority for this city and we must make every effort to ensure that they are not being exposed whether they are at home, school or at their local park. Many of our children, including my own son, spend their days in Day Care facilities there they can come in contact with water from lead pipes. We entrust our Day Care operators with our children, therefore we expect them to make sure their facilities are not unknowingly causing irreparable harm to their development,” said Council Member Donovan Richards.

“Lead is extremely dangerous to everyone but especially to children. Just a small amount of lead can have an extremely detrimental effect on a child’s future.  That’s why it is vitally important that we educate all New Yorkers, immigrants and non-English speakers included, about the effects of lead and the urgent need to remove it from our households and other places where children dwell.  I am pleased to work with Speaker Johnson on this effort that will protect the health and safety of NYC youth for generations to come,” said Council Finance Chair Daniel Dromm. 

“No one should have to live with the fear of exposure to toxic lead in their home, including families with young children whose health and safety are most at risk. I am proud to introduce two bills today to strengthen our City’s efforts to ensure that our homes are safe, clean and free of dangerous toxins. My first bill would require landlords to permanently remove lead paint in an apartment once it becomes vacant, and my second bill would not only improve agency coordination in response to lead contamination caused by construction – it would also allow DOB to issue a stop work order if a unit has received a notice of a lead-based hazard. I look forward to working with Speaker Johnson and my Council colleagues to move these bills forward and arm New York City residents with new tools in the fight against lead,” said Council Member Margaret S. Chin.

“While our city has made great strides in the battle against lead poisoning far too many of our children continue to test positive for dangerously high levels of lead in their blood. We must attack this challenge everywhere that children are at risk: in our housing, in our schools, and in our parks. This sweeping package of legislation will put New York City at the forefront nationally in this vital public health fight,” said Council Health Chair Mark Levine.

“Lead has devastating long-term health impacts and I’m proud our city is taking a huge step forward towards eliminating lead poisoning by being vigilant about lead testing and removal. My bill will require all childcare centers and schools to remediate lead paint. Our city has a duty to do what’s right for our children, and I commend Speaker Corey Johnson for leading the City Council in this important public health fight to help ensure that all children are safe and healthy in our schools and childcare centers,” said Council Member Mark Treyger.

“These lead safety bills will ensure that lead inspections are done independently and with more oversight than in the past. The comprehensive legislative package will close loopholes, ensure accountability and transparency, and most importantly protect children and families from potentially dangerous lead conditions,” said Council Member Ritchie Torres.

“These lead paint bills are crucial in addressing some of the life-threatening issues that have come to light in recent months. It’s important to not only investigate lead paint exposure inside homes and apartments, but also in public or outdoor spaces frequently used, like backyards, parks and playgrounds. We need an EPA-certified company to check soil levels to ensure that people are safe in the spaces they occupy,” said Council Member Rafael Salamanca Jr.

“From our public schools to our public housing, the scourge of lead exposure still occurs far too often in this city. I commend the Speaker and my fellow Council Members for introducing this package of bills which will close gaps in our laws and promote the long-term health of our city’s residents. As the chair of the Council’s Women’s Caucus, I am particularly proud to be introducing a bill that will investigate potential lead sources when a pregnant women is found to have elevated blood lead levels. With this law and this strong package of bills, we can help protect an entire generation of New Yorkers before they are even born,” said Council Member Carlina Rivera.

“Protecting New Yorkers from lead poisoning is an imperative for the City Council, especially when it comes to facilities that serve children. As a former teacher and a father of two, I understand that New Yorkers expect our children to be kept safe when they are away from us, especially in an environment where they are meant to learn and grow. This package of legislation makes it clear that we will do everything we can to eliminate lead poisoning in the five boroughs. I look forward to working with Speaker Corey Johnson and my colleagues to pass these bills into law,” said Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez.

“Keeping our children safe from the dangers of lead is paramount to providing them with the best opportunity to succeed in life. Updating the City’s lead standards to be on par with national standards, and providing additional and more thorough safeguards to ensure the children of this city are safe from lead poisoning is, therefore, a no-brainer. I am proud of my Council colleagues’ efforts in prioritizing this package of legislation, and to be the prime sponsor of one of its component bills,” said Council Member Robert Cornegy.