Lead Free Kids New York Demand Governor and Legislature Take Action to Address Childhood Lead Poisoning Crisis

Advocates Applaud New Budget Provision, Highlight Key Policies Made Even More Essential to Ensure Reductions in Lead Poisoning


May 9, 2023
Contact: Chris Dobens, 718-679-8542, chris@weact.org


ALBANY, NYLead Free Kids New York (LFKNY), a statewide coalition of individuals, groups and organizations working together to end New York’s childhood lead exposure and poisoning crises, is calling on the New York State Legislature and Governor Kathy Hochul to take the urgent action needed to address the state’s childhood lead poisoning crisis.

The 2023-24 budget passed last week includes a provision that creates a rental unit inspection and certification program in the 24 hardest hit communities outside of New York City. With that new program, the Lead-Free Kids NY coalition is highlighting three key bills that are even more essential in the context of that program:

  • Lead Based Paint Disclosure Act (S.2353 Kavanagh/A.4820 Rivera) – Requires sellers or lessors of pre-1978 housing to test for the presence of lead paint and disclose that to buyers. If testing isn’t done, buyers have the right to test before the sale is final. This is an essential backdrop to the inspection and certification programs in budget (Part T), because it increases demand for tests supporting those businesses, and creates a statewide record of lead-painted properties for use in the inspection program.
  • Renovation, Repair and Painting Act (S.2191 Bailey/A.434 Bronson) – Directs the State to take over implementation and enforcement of federal EPA rules regarding training, certification of contractors to ensure lead-safe Renovation, Repair, and Painting projects. This comes with income for the state in the form of certification program fees and an EPA grant. It is essential now to ensure that as landlords must conduct upkeep and repairs to be certified “lead safe” under the budget provision, that they or the contractors they hire conduct such actions in ways that prevent the spread of lead-tainted dust. Without this, children in the units under repair, the workers, and workers’ children all face higher exposures to lead – the opposite of the budget provision’s intent.
  • Landlord Insurance for Lead Based Paint (S.88 Ryan/A.1687 Rivera) – Requires landlord insurance companies to include lead poisoning coverage for tenants, to help cover tenant medical bills and other lead-exposure related expenses and damages (passed by the State Assembly).

Advocates also urge action to address the second greatest driver of lead poisoning in New York: lead pipes contaminating drinking water:

  • Lead Pipes Right to Know Act (S.5512 Rivera/A.6115 Paulin) – This bill requires each water utility to determine which service lines in its system are made of lead. It also requires the New York State Department of Health to make an inventory publicly available and create interactive maps (passed by the State Senate).

Childhood lead poisoning is completely preventable, yet New York State leads the nation in cases of children with elevated blood levels. Twelve percent of the children born in the state in 2019 – 28,820 children – have been diagnosed with blood lead levels greater than 2 micrograms per deciliter (μg/dL). Childhood lead poisoning rates for communities across the New York State are five to six times higher than those in Flint, MI at the peak of its water crisis.

Pervasive racial and socioeconomic inequities exist in New York’s burden of childhood lead poisoning, with children of color and low-income children disparately impacted by childhood lead exposure. In Buffalo, for example, children from neighborhoods of color are 12 times as likely as children from predominantly white neighborhoods to have elevated blood lead levels. New York’s clear distribution of childhood lead poisoning along racial and socioeconomic lines affirms that lead poisoning is a grave racial and environmental injustice – and makes the need to act swiftly to prevent it even more of a moral imperative.

The impacts of childhood lead exposure are lifelong and irreversible. They can include serious neurological and physical damage that results in permanent learning difficulties, hearing loss, behavioral issues, lowered ability to concentrate, and impaired academic performance. Other impacts include health issues such as anemia, hypertension, immunotoxicity, renal impairment, and toxicity to reproductive organs.

“Rochester is living proof of the power of inspecting homes for lead before a child is poisoned. The “Rochester Model” of proactive rental inspection finds and fixes lead hazards in around 1000 units a year.  As a result, lead poisoning rates in Rochester have declined 2.4 times faster than anywhere else in New York state,” said Mel Callan, Chair of the Rochester Coalition to Prevent Lead Poisoning.

“Lead is a potent neurotoxin with no safe level of exposure. And it causes permanent damage to young children’s developing brains, leaving them with cognitive impairments and other health issues that they will have to struggle with their entire life,” explained Sonal Jessel, M.P.H., Director of Policy at WE ACT for Environmental Justice. “And while all children are at risk, studies show that Black children living below the poverty line are twice as likely to suffer from lead poisoning as poor white children, making this an urgent environmental justice concern. That is why it is vital that we pass these essential bills to end this crisis.”

“It is a tragedy and a disgrace that lead poisoning is still so common in New York State more than fifty years after lead paint was banned,” said Bobbi Wilding, Executive Director of Clean+Healthy and co-lead of Lead-Free Kids New York. “What is worse is that generations of children born after the 1970 state ban on indoor lead-based paint continue to be exposed to this heavy metal for which no safety threshold exists. The New York State legislature owes it to the people of New York to take quick and critical steps to address this avoidable problem by passing these vital bills now.”

“Childhood lead exposure and poisoning represent grave threats to the health, wellbeing, and livelihood of New York’s marginalized children, youth, families, and communities.  The fact that one of the richest states in the wealthiest nation in the history of the world has more children with elevated blood lead levels than any other state – with children of color and children living in poverty disparately impacted – is a racial, environmental, and moral injustice,” said Kercena A. Dozier, Executive Director of the Children’s Defense Fund – New York.  “The Children’s Defense Fund – New York implores our State elected officials to act with urgency to enact policies to protect the youngest New Yorkers from the harmful and permanent effects of lead – particularly our Black and Brown children, who are disproportionately affected by childhood lead exposure and poisoning.”

Rob Hayes, Director of Clean Water with Environmental Advocates NY, said, “When New Yorkers turn on the tap, they shouldn’t have to worry that a neurotoxin is contaminating their drinking water. But shockingly, an estimated 500,000 lead water pipes in New York are still in use and harming human health. The Lead Pipe Right to Know Act provides New Yorkers easy access to information about their risk of having a lead pipe and the threat this crisis poses in their community, so they can take steps to protect their health and demand action to replace these dangerous pipes. Now that the State Senate has passed the Lead Pipe Right to Know Act, we urge Speaker Heastie and the State Assembly to do the same.”

“Lead poisoning of children is one of the most prevalent and preventable environmental diseases in New York. Children are the most vulnerable to the harmful effects of lead, which can impair their development and lead to permanent health issues. I am proud to sponsor this crucial piece of legislation to protect children across New York state from the irreversible damage caused by lead poisoning and ensure safe renovation, repair, and painting practices in homes with lead-based paint. Together with my colleagues’ bills, this comprehensive package of environmental legislation will allow our state to take action to make our living environments safer from lead pollution and ensure a healthier future for our children and our communities,” said Senator Jamaal Bailey, Senate sponsor of the Renovation, Repair and Painting Act.

LFKNY held a news conference at the State Capitol this morning. You can access the recording here, followed by an advocacy day meeting with state legislators to discuss these bills.

In addition to the horrific human toll on children and their families, childhood lead poisoning produces a tremendous economic burden. Lead exposure among New York children born in 2019 is projected to carry an estimated $6.4 billion lifetime economic burden due to reduced lifetime productivity, premature mortality, and increased spending on health care utilization, education, and social assistance.

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Lead Free Kids New York (LFKNY) is a growing statewide coalition of individuals, groups and organizations working together to end New York’s childhood lead exposure and poisoning crises. Visit our website (LeadFreeKidsNY.org) and follow us on Facebook (@LeadFreeKidsNY) and Twitter (@LeadFreeKidsNY) to learn more about who we are, our policy priorities and how you can get involved in our movement to ensure all New York children are #LeadFreeKidsNY.

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