Fears loom over lead poisoning and Legionnaires’ disease in NYCHA

Fears of lead poisoning and Legionnaires’ disease take center stage in the ongoing saga of problems that continue to consume the New York City Housing Authority. Politicians are now asking for mandatory testing to get a better sense of how widespread the problems are.

Last month, the city reported that more than 1,000 children living in NYCHA tested positive for lead poisoning since 2012. Some children tested positive more than once.

“I do regret the swirl of numbers and the confusion and the confusion that that swirl has generated,” former Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett said before her recent departure. “Our goal here is to demonstrate our commitment to being transparent about the data.”

The number is a far cry from statistics released in 2017 that said between 2010 and 2016, there were 17 documented cases at 18 NYCHA apartments where children with elevated blood lead levels lived.

Politicians are now stepping in saying that the city needs to do more to test children for lead to understand how severe the problem is.

Lead poisoning can cause a variety of health and developmental problems, especially in children. Among its effects might be decreased muscle and bone growth, speech and language problems, developmental delay, seizures and damage to the nervous system.

In a recent op-ed, Brooklyn State Sen. Jesse Hamilton called the recent NYCHA blunder a “health crisis” and said that the city needs to take all measures to ensure children are safe in public housing.

“It is time for the mayor to learn everything about lead. It is time to get real answers,” Hamilton said. “NYCHA is publicly owned, and we need to take responsibility now for the babies and youth that are suffering permanent damage due to NYCHA negligence on our land.”

Hamilton’s office has offered free lead testing and claims the State Senate office has tested more children than the mayor’s office.

Along with lead poisoning, Legionnaires’ disease has also become a threat in public housing in recent weeks. NYCHA has reported three cases of Legionnaires’ disease at St. Nicholas Houses in Harlem. The patients were taken to the hospital and later released.

NYCHA said all 13 hot water tank lines at St. Nicholas Houses were going to be cleaned.

In a joint letter by Congressman Adriano Espaillat and other politicians, including Bronx Borough President Rubén Díaz Jr., New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer, Public Advocate Letitia James and New York State Sen. Brian A. Benjamin, calls are being made for mandatory testing protocol for all NYCHA buildings.

“We are deeply concerned with the lack of consistent and up-to-date information from the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene following reports of New York City Housing Authority residents recently diagnosed with Legionnaires disease,” said Espaillat.

Elected officials hosted a community town hall last Friday at the Salem United Methodist Church to inform residents about what was going on.