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You are here: Home The Goods Local Expert Explains the Risks of Lead Dust for Young Children
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Local Expert Explains the Risks of Lead Dust for Young Children

leadRepresenting tenants of a Bronx apartment owned by the NYC Housing Authority (NYCHA), Greenacres resident and attorney Thomas Giuffra just won a $57 million lawsuit. The suit charged NYCHA with failing to test for the presence of lead paint and maintaining the apartment in a dangerous condition. NYCHA denied the presence of lead in the apartment despite violations being issued by the Department of Health and being ordered to abate the lead.

The child, who grew up in the apartment, had high levels of lead in her blood which her attorney argued caused permanent brain damage. The injured child was diagnosed with a lead level of 45 mcg/dl at a routine checkup. The CDC considers any lead level above 5 mcg/dl to be lead poisoning, but states no safe lead level in children has been identified.  Due to sustaining lead poisoning, the child developed significant permanent cognitive injuries which has impacted her ability to learn and required extensive special education and other services in City Public Schools.

Lead in young children is accepted by science to cause brain damage and being responsible for developmental and cognitive issues. In addition to harming the central nervous system, the long-term effects of lead poisoning include renal damage, cardiovascular disease and damage to the reproductive and immune systems. Lead has a long-term impact because the body recognizes lead as calcium and stores it in the bones. 

What are the implications of this verdict for the proposed renovation of Greenacres Elementary School?

We asked Giuffra and here are his thoughts on the matter:

He said, "The case against NYCHA was a classic example of what happens when authorities minimize or deny the presence of lead and perform inadequate inspections. In the case of Greenacres, the district performed 509 XRF lead tests, a completely insufficient number based on the size of the school. For example, in my case, the Department of Health tested over 150 XRF sites for two small NYCHA apartments. To truly understand the full scope of the lead issue, there should have been thousands of test sites done on a building the size of Greenacres, including all rooms in the school (particularly ceilings and windows). Also no paint chip sampling was done at the school which provides additional useful information."

Giuffra continued, "As somebody who has handled lead cases for over twenty years, I viewed the sparse testing as a transparent attempt to reassure parents and the community by using a completely inadequate sampling. The fact that they found lead by using such a limited survey is clear proof that there likely is lead paint throughout the school... and if known would require abatement under New York law. Assurances that the building can be fully abated over the summer are very misleading, because the full scope of the problem remains unknown. Rather than reassuring the community, the finding of lead should cause greater concerns."

He said, "My view is as it has always been .... if they renovate, the kids should not be in the school during construction. I personally believe that the district should have included trailers on the field to protect the children or made allowances to relocate. The current plan leaves kids in unsafe conditions, demonstrates a complete ignorance of the potential hazards of lead and the risk of permanent injury to the children of Greenacres. The primary pathway for lead intoxication is breathing dust contaminated with lead. To think that children will not be exposed to construction dust during a major renovation of this type, despite safeguards, shows a lack of familiarity with construction sites in the real world. Lead, like asbestos, becomes harmful when it is disturbed either through peeling or demolition. Unlike asbestos which harms older people, lead attacks the developing brains of young children and they never get the chance for a normal life."

Giuffra continued, "To those who argue that work was recently done at the high school with kids in the school, here is the difference; the students in grades K-4 are at an age when school age children are most vulnerable to harm from lead. High school aged children are at a much reduced risk of injury because they are at a far more advanced stage of brain development. To attempt to equate two wholly different situations demonstrates nothing more than a lack of knowledge about lead poisoning."

He concluded with a warning, "My opinion is that the current renovation plan is like driving while wearing a blindfold; you don't know what lies ahead and hope that it all works out. It is a fact that lead paint was used in the United States until 1978, particularly in schools and municipal buildings, as it was an excellent and durable paint. I would not be surprised that if the old pre-1978 bid documents were reviewed, the specifications called for lead paint to be used. The school board and community has no idea of the full scope of the problem and plunging forward in this manner without knowing what is on the walls, ceilings, windows and trim throughout the building is just reckless. My recent verdict should alert parents, teachers, administrators and residents to the very real danger that this project poses to children. Lead is the number one environmental hazard to children. Ultimately, it is the children who pay the price for lead poisoning, and that is a tragedy."

"Younger children get poisoning from eating paint chips primarily, they also get it from breathing it. This is because younger children have pica (a fancy name for putting things in their mouth and eating it). They eat lead paint chips because they taste sweet. In contrast, older children develop lead intoxication from breathing lead contaminated dust which goes into their lungs and their bloodstream."

About environmental laws he said, "As far as regulations being such a great protection, why is it that Scarsdale is home to so many lawyers who earn a very comfortable living because laws are broken every second of the day. If laws and regulations were not broken, I would not have won my case or the other verdicts I have had in lead cases. Though the district claims that all interior work can be done in the summer, they don't know the scope of the lead problem based on the small survey sample. Very likely the entire school would need some form of abatement."

Giuffra added, "I do not care if they renovate or replace. I only care if kids are in the school when they do the former. I can't understand why the people who support the renovation don't fight for trailers or relocation to guarantee the safety of the children with the same passion. If they had trailers they would be able to work 12 months of the year and not be governed by the school calendar. What is more cost effective long term?"

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