A federal judge is ordering New York City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to release information about elevated blood lead levels among the city’s poor and homeless, amid a federal investigation into the possible misuse of funds meant to improve the conditions and reduce the risk of lead poisoning.
U.S. District Judge Deborah A. Batts, in the Southern District of New York, issued the order after prosecutors from the office of U.S. District Attorney Preet Bharara announced an investigation into New York City agencies for filing false claims with the federal government.
The investigation will involve an examination into cases of elevated blood lead levels and safety conditions in public housing and homeless shelters, according to a report by the New York Times.
Prosecutors asked to the court to issue the order for the documents after the New York City Housing Authority, Nycha, refused a request in November for documents on mold, water damage, particulate matter, peeling paint, lead paint, infestations of rodents and insects, and investigations looking into complaints about those issues.
Nycha refused the request, citing New York City health codes that required a court order. However, city officials have said Nycha and other agencies will comply with the investigation and court order.
About 178,000 apartments in the New York City are managed by Nycha, which indicates that it has fallen behind on maintenance needs because of a lack of funding. However, the investigation is looking into alleged false claims filed by Nycha officials with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The agency is already under a court-appointed special master’s supervision over the prevalence of mold in its apartments. In addition, New York State Senator Jeffrey D. Klein, and Ritchie Torres, chairman of the City Council Public Housing Committee, recently conducted a door-to-door survey of 200 residents living in Nycha-managed properties which revealed that 63% had apartments with damages that Nycha was supposed to fix.
The CDC estimates that 535,000 children ages 1-5, or about 2.6% of such children in the U.S., have levels of lead in their blood that place them at risk for adverse health effects. To come up with that number, the CDC analyzed data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from the years 1999 to 2002, and 2007 through 2010.
The majority of those children are poor and live in older urban areas, mainly in the inner city. Most are minorities, meaning such exposures add to numerous problems already plaguing inner city black and Latino youths, such as poverty, high crime and poor schools.