Eight years after learning that her daughter had tested positive for dangerous levels of lead—the result of living for years in lead-tainted public housing—Tiesha Jones has finally received some measure of justice.
On Friday, a Bronx, N.Y., jury awarded Jones a $57 million verdict against the New York City Housing Authority for failing to do legally required lead inspections of her apartment.
As the New York Daily News reports, the verdict follows disturbing revelations that NYCHA had falsely claimed that mandatory lead-paint checks were being conducted in its aging apartments. In fact, the Housing Authority had neglected for years to perform thousands of these evaluations.
Jones moved into her NYCHA apartment in the city’s Bronx borough in 1999. By 2010, the Daily News reports, she had six children living with her. One of them, Dakota Taylor, who was then 4 years old, tested positive for lead contamination in her blood. At 45 micrograms per deciliter of lead in her blood, Dakota’s results registered nine times higher than what is considered an “acceptable” level.
Experts believe that high levels of lead in children can cause developmental delays, and the damage from lead poisoning cannot be reversed.
Jones says that after the lead exposure, Dakota was held over in special ed in second grade. “She didn’t have a chance to go to a regular school,” Jones told the Daily News.
After Dakota’s high lead levels were detected, inspectors from New York City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene conducted their own lead screening of Jones’ apartment, the apartment of a nearby babysitter and that of her grandmother. Only the grandmother’s apartment, which was not in a NYCHA development, was found free of lead paint.
NYCHA, which conducts its own lead screenings on apartments, insisted that its results showed that the apartment was free of lead paint. As the Daily News notes, two earlier inspections of Jones’ home in 2006 and 2008 showed that inspections had been done, but with no notation that the apartment had been checked for lead.
Jones told the paper that the findings left her feeling betrayed: “I was mortified. They sent me letters every year stating that there’s no lead in the apartment. Here I was thinking I was safe, taking care of my children.”
The $57 million verdict against NYCHA, a decision that only took the jury an hour to reach, sends a strong mandate to the city’s Housing Authority and to Mayor Bill de Blasio to address health concerns with the city’s old and unsafe public housing.
Meanwhile, Jones, who lives in a different public housing development now, is working toward a law degree and has emerged as a tenant leader.
“Imagine how many other residents have gone through this,” she said.