SESSION WRAP 2017: Strengthening Lead Poisoning Protections

Bryan Hetherington July 31, 2017

Both Houses of the New York State Legislature have passed A.1809A (Dinowitz)/S.1200A (Alcantara), which will strengthen the enforcement of lead poisoning protections for children.  Lead is a serious neurotoxin which can cause significant loss of I.Q., other cognitive functioning problems, and other lifelong heath issues.  Most lead poisoning in children is caused by deteriorating lead paint in housing built before 1978, when lead was outlawed in paint.  Low income children are particularly at risk because they often live in rental housing which is not well maintained by the owner.

Children are required to be tested for possible lead poisoning at both one and two years old.  If the testing shows a high levels of lead in their blood, the local Health Department is notified and conducts an investigation to determine where the child was poisoned.  On finding the site of the poisoning, the Commissioner of Health normally issues a notice of violation and a demand that the condition causing the violation be fixed.

If the property owner doesn’t fix the condition, under current law, the local Commissioner of Health has the option to conduct a hearing and to assess a monetary penalty up to $2,500 for failing to comply with the demand to fix the violation.  But taking enforcement action is optional.

The legislation passed this session amends section 1373 (3) of the Public Health Law to require the local Health Commissioner to conduct an enforcement hearing if the owner does not correct a violation.  It also places the burden of proof on the property owner to show by a preponderance of the evidence “that a paint condition conducive to lead poisoning does not exist.”

Laws that require inspection of housing units for lead danger before children are poisoned, like the City of Rochester Ordinance, which requires periodic inspection of rental housing for lead danger, have been shown to have a greater effect on reducing lead poisoning than laws only requiring correction of conditions after a child is poisoned.  Along with other community wide efforts, Rochester saw a reduction of the number of children poisoned each year from over 1,200 in 2002 to 137 in 2014.

However, this bill, if signed by the Governor, will provide some protection that the same property does not continue to poison a child who lives in the property, and should protect siblings or other children who live in the property where a child has already been poisoned.