New York City initiative aims to reduce lead exposure

NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio on Monday announced a new initiative desiged to protect children from lead poisoning after a lead paint scandal at NYCHA pushed city leaders to take action.

The plan, called LeadFreeNYC, was the result of a 90-day review of all agencies' policies related to lead prevention.

For the first time, the city will screen every apartment for potential lead hazards, eliminate lead risks in NYCHA apartments and family shelters, target unsafe consumer goods, provide children with dedicated nurses, and link together all city agencies responding to lead exposure.

"Childhood lead exposure is preventable, and this is a plan to eliminate it altogether," de Blasio said. "New York City has driven down the number of kids exposed to lead by 90 percent, and now we will finish the mission. With LeadFreeNYC, we will target every source of exposure, every apartment and every child. We will be there for kids and parents every step of the way, until we drive this problem to zero."

Officials say the approach is twofold: prevent exposure to lead hazards in the first place, and respond quickly and comprehensively if a child has an elevated blood lead level.

To protect New York City kids, the city will increase resources and support for children, parents, and healthcare providers to make sure every child under 3 is tested for lead exposure - and any child who does test positive gets the services they need.

WATCH: Mayor de Blasio announces LeadFreeNYC program

In New York City, public health data points to lead paint and the dust it creates as the primary source of childhood lead exposure. In 2004, the New York City Council enacted Local Law 1 (LL1), which grants the city expansive powers to hold landlords accountable for addressing lead hazards and which helped achieve dramatic declines in childhood lead exposure in New York City.

The city proposes to use the full power of the law to target bad actors and build on LL1 with bold steps, like lowering the lead-paint and dust standards to remove hazards with smaller amounts of lead than ever before, focusing on high-risk neighborhoods for enforcement and outreach, and aggressively increasing the city's oversight over construction work that poses a risk of lead dust.

The goals of LeadFreeNYC include:
--Reduce the amount of lead in paint and dust that triggers remediation and abatement to the lowest level of any major U.S. city
--Require annual inspections of apartments in 1- and 2-family homes previously excluded from the City's lead paint regime
--Expand the use of stop work orders from the Department of Buildings when the Health Department finds lead exposure risks during construction
--Ensure children are immediately provided with blood lead level testing in any home where housing inspectors identify a lead paint hazard
--Provide a dedicated nurse to any child with an elevated blood lead level to coordinate care
--Launch ad campaigns promoting testing for children in communities with low testing rates, to raise awareness about free water testing kits provided by the City, and promoting awareness of harmful consumer products containing lead
--Test all 135,000 NYCHA apartments where lead has not been ruled out
--Proactively test and remediate all lead sources in shelters
--Establish a new Lead-Free Designation for homes where all lead has been eliminated
--Publish a Lead Products Index of consumer goods like spices and ceramics that contain lead, consolidating Health Department rules to protect retailers and consumers
--Expedite service line replacement beginning with low-income homes
--Reduce lead exposure risks from soil by offering free clean topsoil to community gardens and surveying NYCHA playgrounds to cover exposed soil when needed

In addition, the City has also launch a new website, LeadFreeNYC, to provide information and guidance for parents, tenants, landlords, and all New Yorkers. The website includes data and progress on the city's lead prevention initiatives and includes educational materials to help New Yorkers understand the dangers of the lead and the tools available to anyone who may have been exposed to lead.

The city will also hire a Citywide Lead Compliance Officer and expand an advisory board to help ensure the city stays on track to meet its goals and mission to eliminate lead exposure in New York City.

The Citywide Lead Compliance Officer will oversee the execution of these recommendations, coordinate data sharing among agencies, and will be responsible for the compliance of lead-related regulations. The advisory commission - currently organized by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene - will be expanded to include additional environmental advocates, community groups and experts to help keep the city accountable in its mission and will meet on a quarterly basis.

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