Earlier this month, New York City finally admitted that more children than were initially listed had been exposed to lead in the city’s public housing units.
The total amount submitted by the city’s health department—820 kids under the age of 6 alone—far eclipsed a previous number of 18 given by the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA).
But the news was little comfort to people like Teisha Jones, whose daughter, Dakota Taylor, has already suffered from lead exposure while living in a NYCHA apartment.
“She forgot how to write her letters. She knew how to tie her shoe (before); she forgot how to tie a shoe. She withdrew,” she said, describing the symptoms her daughter started displaying when she was in elementary school.
“It’s not normal for children to drool at four years old,” Jones added.
Earlier this year, Jones was an awarded a $57 million settlement with the city after a jury found NYCHA responsible for the cognitive and developmental damage her daughter suffered in one of their Bronx apartments. And on July 9, New York State Senator Gustavo Rivera introduced “Dakota’s Law,” which would protect children in the state from lead poisoning by making it easier for families to access preventative care for lead exposure.
The bill would apply to children under the age of 18 living in both public and private housing, and require New York state to assist local health offices with investigations should the need arise.
For many New York City children living in public housing, the bill is too late.
Children under the age of 6 are the most vulnerable to lead poisoning, and exposure to lead can severely stunt a child’s intellectual and physical development. High lead levels can cause nerve disorders, muscle and joint pain, and affect a child’s hormone and immune systems.
Part of the issue is NYCHA was using a higher trigger level to initiate lead inspections in its apartments. The Centers for Disease Control recommends that localities intervene when a child tests positive for lead levels of 5 to 9 micrograms per deciliter, reports the New York Daily News. Up until this year, NYCHA was using a trigger of 10 micrograms per deciliter.
Even worse, an inquiry from November 2017 found the city had submitted false paperwork on its lead paint inspections, with NYCHA authorities signing off on lead inspections that never happened.
“This was not what public housing was supposed to be about,” New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer told The Root. “It was actually [supposed] to elevate people.”
Ritchie Torres, a city council member representing the Bronx, highlighted the inescapable racial dynamic of the city’s years of negligence.
“If these were privileged white kids who were exposed to poison by lead paint, there would be widespread outrage. There’d be a mass of resignations, firings,” said Torres. “But because these are poor black and brown kids who’ve been exposed to lead paint, there’s no outrage at all.”