public housing

NYCHA Bungles Lead Paint Clean-up as It Blows Deadline

Jasmine Green, who lives in Queensbridge, said she was concerned about her daughter getting sick from lead.
Jasmine Green, who lives in Queensbridge, said she was concerned about her daughter getting sick from lead. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

City Housing Authority employees scouring apartments for evidence of lead paint in some cases wielded dust wipes that were long-expired — rendering results useless, THE CITY has learned.

The revelation came as officials confirmed in a memo Monday that NYCHA blew its deadline to inspect and clean up lead paint from apartments where children under six live or frequently visit. NYCHA managers also admitted the work was poorly coordinated, without enough inspectors to get the job done right — and by May 31, as originally promised.

Hours before the Friday deadline, interim NYCHA Chairperson Kathryn Garcia notified federal monitor Bart Schwartz that NYCHA “at this time is unable to certify its compliance with applicable lead-based paint regulations.”

Her memo followed a letter Schwartz sent to Garcia last week charging NYCHA can’t possibly meet a self-imposed deadline to test 135,000 apartments where lead is suspected by the end of 2020. Schwartz was brought in under a Jan. 31 agreement between the city and the feds amid NYCHA’s failure to address lead paint, mold and other woes plaguing public housing.

Dust Wipe Woes

NYCHA said its inspectors didn’t always properly dust-wipe apartments to make sure they were clean of lead — and couldn’t locate records from more than 30 apartments that had allegedly undergone “clearance exams.”

In her memo to Schwartz, Garcia conceded the authority “has determined the agency failed to comply with dust wipe clearance protocols.”

NYCHA workers were given expired wipes to check for lead paint in apartments.
NYCHA workers were given expired wipes to check for lead paint in apartments. Photo: Obtained by THE CITY

Workers at some inspection sites say they were given dust wipes that had expired. At one site in Lower Manhattan, workers showed THE CITY a dust wipe packet with an expiration date of July 2014.

Results of expired dust wipes are useless in certifying that an apartment is clean of lead.

NYCHA General Manager Vito Mustaciuolo said Monday the agency was aware that some of the dust wipe packets were expired, but insisted anything that wasn’t up to date was thrown out.

“We don’t have any knowledge of” workers getting expired packets, he told THE CITY. “We didn’t find any in our possession that were older than 2016.”

Spotty Spot-Check Results

Meanwhile, spot checks of clean-up sites by NYCHA’s “compliance team,” which included inspectors from the Department of Sanitation, found a myriad of problems.

Garcia stated that NYCHA had tested 2,383 apartments containing lead paint where children lived or routinely visited, and determined that, as of last week, 63% were not properly certified as cleaned up.

Under NYCHA’s rules, once an apartment is “cleaned” of lead paint, a dust-wipe must be done within two hours to make sure it’s actually lead free. NYCHA conceded that in 1,523 apartments that registered lead, the required “clearance” exam did not occur until long after the cleanup.

And even when NYCHA believed the dust-wiping had been done properly, the authority didn’t always have records to prove it. As of May 2, NYCHA could account for only 67 of the 98 apartments where the agency had signed off on clearance exams. Records of the other 31 could not be found.

NYCHA is supposed to adhere to requirements designed to make sure a cleanup is complete — and doesn’t make the problem worse by spreading lead dust inside an apartment.

Internal NYCHA data obtained by THE CITY show that at least early on, workers often weren’t wearing proper protective equipment or failed to put up signs warning tenants that cleanups were underway.

In some cases, workers failed to properly “contain” the work area with plastic sheeting, or did an inadequate job cleaning up afterward, the data show.

But between January and May, inspectors who conducted random checks of worksites found marked improvement.

At the Queensbridge North Houses, one of several properties that NYCHA identified as having lead paint, resident Jasmine Green, 21, was outside enjoying the warm weather with her 7-month-old daughter, Alayah, on Monday.

She said she’s lived in the development for 10 years and has never seen a NYCHA worker checking for lead.

“They haven’t checked anything,” she told THE CITY. “I’m angry,”

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