Local and National Groups to Sue City of Albany Over Faulty Lead Paint Reduction Program

Children in Low-Income Neighborhoods May Be at Risk; City Squandered HUD Tax Dollars

ALBANY, NY (May 22, 2002) -- Citing a litany of examples of disregard for proper procedure which may have left some Albany children in danger of lead poisoning, a local and national group plan to sue the city for failing to manage a federally funded lead reduction program.

The Arbor Hill Concerned Citizens Neighborhood Association (AHCCNA) and NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) announced their intent to sue Mayor Gerald D. Jennings, George Leveille, commissioner of the Albany Department of Development and Planning, and Joseph Montana, director of the Albany Community Development Agency, charging gross mismanagement of a program designed to reduce children's exposure to the dangers of lead paint.

The citizen lawsuit will be filed after the 60-day waiting period required by law. It seeks to halt the violations and force the city to ensure that improperly abated homes are safe for residents. It will be filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York.

"The City of Albany grossly mismanaged this program, consistently flouting EPA safety regulations at the expense of children in low-income housing," said Michelle Alvarez, NRDC staff attorney.

Since 1995, the City of Albany has received $13 million in grants from the federal government for the removal or containment of lead-based paint in older and mostly low-income homes. The work is subject to EPA regulations implemented under a federal law, the Toxic Substances Control Act, designed to ensure the protection of public health. The regulations specify detailed requirements for work procedures and the training and certification of lead contractors, risk assessors, and inspectors. These requirements were not followed in a significant number of homes, possibly hundreds.

Instead, community groups found that the City of Albany consistently used lead workers who had not been properly certified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to perform inspections, abatements and risk assessments. They consistently violated work practice standards while removing or containing lead-based paint in homes and during post-abatement testing designed to ensure that the houses were safe for families to return.

"We have good laws and regulations to protect the community while removing this hazard," said Aaron Mair, President of the Arbor Hill Concerned Citizens Neighborhood Association, "but the city took the federal money and then betrayed the public trust."

Albany's lead-based paint removal program has been widely cited as a showcase program around the country, winning a City Livability Award honorable mention from the U.S. Conference of Mayors in 1999.

"Despite past praise for this program, the reality is that the city gave people a false sense of security. It remains to be seen how many children might be affected," said Rodney Davis, Director of the Arbor Hill Environmental Justice Corporation, an urban environmentalist group based in Albany.

Lead is a highly toxic metal that was widely used in paint until it was banned in 1978. According to city estimates, about 95 percent of Albany's housing stock was built before then. In three of the city's Lead Paint Abatement target areas, Arbor Hill, West Hill, and the South End, there are 6,600 children under age 6 and 95 percent of them are at risk of lead poisoning, according to city figures.

Infants, children under age 6, and pregnant women are the groups most at risk of lead poisoning, which affects every system of the body. At high levels of exposure, lead can cause coma, convulsions, and death. At low levels, it can affect children's developing brains and nervous systems, causing reduced IQs and attention spans, reading and learning disabilities, hyperactivity, and behavioral problems.

With the removal of lead from gasoline, food canning and other sources over the past 20 years, lead blood levels were reduced by over 80 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Recent CDC figures indicate that nearly one million children still have elevated levels of lead in their blood. HUD has determined that lead paint in housing is the major remaining source of exposure, responsible for most cases of childhood lead poisoning today. The majority of childhood lead poisoning cases go undiagnosed and untreated since most poisoned children have no obvious symptoms.

The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, non-profit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has more than 500,000 members nationwide, served from offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Arbor Hill Concerned Citizens Neighborhood Association (AHCCNA) is a community-based organization in the predominantly African-American neighborhood of Arbor Hill in Albany.

Arbor Hill Environmental Justice Corporation is an urban, community based organization working to safeguard public health, improve environmental protection and secure environmental justice in low income and communities of color.

Related NRDC Pages

How Lead Poisons the Human Body