The number of classrooms identified as having lead-paint hazards has doubled to 1,858, after additional inspections were conducted in rooms serving first graders and students with special needs, according to new information obtained by WNYC and Gothamist.
A WNYC investigation in June into lead-paint contamination in New York City elementary schools prompted the Department of Education to conduct a full round of inspections in all 3-K, pre-K and kindergarten classrooms at the end of the school year. Initial results revealed that 938 classrooms contained deteriorated lead paint in need of remediation, or roughly 20 percent of 5,000 rooms inspected.
However, additional inspections in more than 3,000 first-grade and District 75 classrooms, which provides classes for students with special needs, found an additional 920 classrooms with lead-paint hazards. Readers can view the full data and find results for individual classrooms here.
Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office said DOE is on track to complete remediation work before the start of the school year.
“We have completed remediation or stabilization of the paint in all of those classrooms,” said the Senior Advisor for Citywide Lead Prevention, Kathryn Garcia, speaking on The Brian Lehrer Show on Thursday. “We anticipate that they will all be ready for the first day of school.”
Just 93 rooms are still awaiting clearance from inspectors after remediation work so the rooms can be reoccupied, according to Garcia. Classes begin on Thursday, September 5th.
Under the city’s health code, DOE is required to visually inspect all classrooms serving students under six years of age once a year. But the department only began testing first-grade classrooms, where a number of students are still five years of age at the beginning of the school year, after WNYC found lead-dust levels well above the city’s safety standard in several first grade classrooms.
The department’s findings raise questions about how robust its inspection protocol has been. WNYC has requested records from past inspections, but has yet to receive them. A spokesperson for Mayor de Blasio said the city has hired Ernst and Young to conduct an independent review of DOE’s protocols, which is expected to be completed at the end of 2019.
Mark Treyger, a City Council member and chair of the education committee, said he’s working with the council’s legislative team to possibly draft legislation placing new requirements on DOE for lead inspections and that the council plans to hold an oversight hearing this fall.
“Make no mistake, people will be held accountable,” Treyger said. “They are on notice that we are very serious about this.”
Another pressing issue is whether DOE will also test common areas used by children under six, including hallways and stairways, as required under the city’s health code. WNYC found lead-dust levels of over 1,000 micrograms in an auditorium and over 3,300 micrograms in a library used by pre-K and kindergarten classes at a school in Brooklyn. The current standard is 10 micrograms.
On Monday, 34 members of the City Council sent a letter to Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza calling the department’s response “inadequate” and reiterating a request they’d originally made on August 14th, calling on DOE to inspect and test such spaces before classes begin.
Mayor de Blasio has pledged to completely eliminate lead exposure in New York City, but he’d so far resisted the Council’s request to expand protocols beyond classrooms.
“If you're, for example, walking through a hallway and you're just walking through, you don't get lead chips in your mouth walking through a hallway or lead dust on you walking through a hallway,” de Blasio said at a press conference earlier in August.
In the last day, however, the administration has hinted at a possible change of course.
“DOE will enhance their protocols on common space,” Garcia said on WNYC. “We will continue to communicate more specifics as we sort of recraft the policy.”
DOE has tripled the number of inspections it will conduct to three times a year. And school custodians are being trained on how to recognize peeling paint and prevent the accumulation of dangerous lead-dust levels through regular cleaning and dusting.
School principals are also being provided with a list of classrooms that have been cleared as safe and mandating they only use those rooms for children under six.
Parents can also report deteriorated paint conditions in their child’s school by using an online tool DOE has added to its website as a result of WNYC’s investigation. It’s recommended that children be tested for lead exposure at least once a year.