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November 14, 2017

A decade-long investigation on lead exposure rates in children in New York City found several neighborhoods with higher rates than Flint, Michigan, Reuters reported Tuesday. Reuters obtained childhood blood testing data from 2005 to 2015 and found 69 census tracts where the lead exposure was higher in New York City than Flint, where local government cost-saving measures contaminated the city's water supply.

Reuters mapped lead exposure across the census tracts, contiguous areas that ideally contain a population of about 4,000 people. In contrast to Flint, where the water crisis led to the high exposure levels, New York City's failure to eliminate lead poisoning is believed to be a result of poor regulation of existing housing laws and lead levels found in consumer products, Reuters explained:

There is little or no city enforcement of two provisions of the law, designed to make private landlords responsible for preventing poisoning.

One requires landlords to conduct annual lead paint inspections in pre-1960 housing units where small children live, fix hazards, and keep records. The other requires them to "permanently seal or remove" lead paint from spots like windows and door-frames — so-called friction surfaces, where paint often breaks down — before new tenants move in.

Reporters reviewed the past 12 years of [New York Housing and Preservation Department] violation records and found the agency hasn't cited a single landlord for failure to conduct the annual inspections. Only one was cited for failure to remediate friction surfaces between tenants, in 2010. [Reuters]

Reuters' investigation found that most children with elevated levels of lead exposure lived in Brooklyn. High levels of lead exposure were also found in well-off areas like Manhattan's Upper West Side, which had rates comparable to Flint's. Read Reuters' full report here. Kelly O'Meara Morales