Lead paint was sold and used in this country for much of the twentieth century. Although New York was one of the first cities to legally ban the sale of lead paint in 1960, a total nationwide ban did not happen till 1978. Today, even though the use of is virtually nonexistent because of New York poisoning laws, buildings and houses built before 1960 still perpetuate the threat of lead paint poisoning. The 1990 Census showed that New York City has the countries greatest percentage of pre-1960 residential housing. The City estimates that almost two million units of housing have lead based paint, roughly 50% of which are occupied by people of low or moderate income; about 323,000 apartments with lead paint are occupied by families with young children, and among that number, some 174,000 are occupied by low income residents.
New York Poisoning Law: The Strongest in the Country
Until 1982, the City could order the removal of lead paint only after a child was poisoned. However, since lead poisoning is a permanent injury, waiting until a child was poisoned was too late. Therefore, in 1982 the City enacted Local Law 1 (LL 1), a New York lead paint poisoning law which required landlords to immediately remove lead paint in any residential structure where a young child lived, before the child was poisoned.
At the time, LL 1 was one of the strongest lead poisoning prevention laws in the country. The rate of lead poisoning in New York City was decreasing more rapidly than any other US city. However, the City never fully enforced LL 1, and many lead paint hazards still remain. Because of this, as many as 30,000 children a year are estimated to have dangerously high levels of lead in their blood.
In 1985, the New York City Coalition to End Lead Poisoning (NYCCELP) brought a class action against the City which brought about several court orders obligating the City to strictly enforce LL 1. In 1996, New York’s Court of Appeals declared that under LL 1, landlords had a duty to make certain that dwellings with young children were free of lead hazards.
New York Lead Paint Poisoning Laws Goes against Public Interest
In 1999, New York lead paint poisoning laws took a huge step back when City Council, under the leadership of Speaker Peter Vallone, rolled back the lead poisoning laws by enacting Local Law 38 of 1999 (LL 38) despite the objections of leading public health experts, doctors, tenant organizations, disability, education, environmental groups, racial justice organizations, and labor unions. Among other things, LL 38 shifted much of the burden of detecting and responding to lead hazards from landlords to tenants, eliminated lead dust from regulatory control, considerably scaled back the safety measures and training required during lead removal work, extended the time frames for enforcement to as long as six months, and sought to curtail children’s rights to civil remedies once poisoned.
New York Lead Paint Poisoning Laws in the New Millennium
As a response to LL 38, NYCCELP, NYPIRG (New York Public Interest Research Group) and other organizations brought a suit (NYCCELP v. Vallone) which claimed that the City Council violated state law by enacting LL 38 without proper environmental review. The state Supreme Court agreed and in October of 2000 declared LL 38 null and void and reinstated LL1; on appeal by the City the Appellate Division reversed the trial court and the parties are currently seeking permission to appeal to the New York State Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court.
Meanwhile, the Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Act (Intro 101) has been introduced in the Council. The bill has 31 sponsors and has been referred to the Housing and Buildings Committee. No hearing has been scheduled for the bill thus far.