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City of New Haven working to address a widespread lead problem

NEW HAVEN-- About two months ago the city with a class action lawsuit claiming city policies were harming hundreds of children.

New Haven mayor Toni Harp said her administration will stand behind it’s values.

Mayor Harp said, “Going forward there will be no more questions about the city’s response to cases of illness when exposure to lead is suspected.”

Earlier this year, a class action lawsuit claimed a change in the city policy would harm children.

Historically, the city would take action when a child’s blood level was at 5 micrograms per deciliter… it had planned to change that thresh-hold to 20 micrograms per deciliter – matching the state standard.

Now two months after a lawsuit criticizing the change Mayor Harp announced a 5-point plan to redefine the city’s ordinance changing that level back down to 5.

Rosalyn Hamilton who is acting as the interim director of public health for the city said, “The thing we are also looking at it’s not just paint, but it’s a lot of different items in the home… toys, cosmetics, imported foods and spices.”

The city will be looking for outside help, just for the short-term.

Mayor Harp said, “We’re exploring the possibility of hiring a consultant or specialist on a contract basis to help with the city’s program.”

Mayor Harp’s 5-point plan would even hire more lead inspectors to hit the street and a new budget.

“We’re having conversations and we will work with out partners across the hall… on opportunities on where we can look at the budget and provide more funding it, but right now we are just sharpening our pencils and looking at every single avenue,” said Daryl Jones, who is the controller for the city of New Haven.

The plan still has to be voted on, but at this time mayor harp said her focus is making new haven a “lead-safe city”

“I think we all can agree that the most important take-away from these disagreements is a clear path forward to safeguard the well-being of the children of New Haven.”

We got a hold of the written remarks from the Mayor hat helps layout the 5-point plan, it reads as follows:

“Good afternoon, everybody. Welcome to City Hall – thank you for being here for today’s important announcement about a very serious, complex policy issue the City continues working to address.

Let me first remind you of New Haven’s proud reputation as a ground-breaking guardian of children’s health as it relates to exposure to lead. In 1974, New Haven banned lead paint: four years before the federal government got around to doing so.

Fast-forward some 20 years, to the mid-1990s, at about the time I was starting my 20-year tenure as a state Senator from New Haven.

At that time, the city launched an aggressive public awareness, inspection, and abatement program using a combination of state and federal funding.

I’m very proud of my record over the 20 years that followed, helping direct state resources to help underwrite these ongoing, local efforts.

And now fast-forward to today, when, as mayor, I announce a comprehensive, five-point plan to once again move New Haven forward on the issue, reaffirming the city’s record and declaring my intention to make New Haven known as Connecticut’s ‘lead-safe’ city.

Anyone who says the City of New Haven has been negligent on this issue doesn’t know its history or seems willing to distort it.

And going forward, there will be no more questions about the city’s response to cases of illness when exposure to lead is suspected.

With that said, the City ‘has’ been challenged to defend its standards, practices, and protocol in recent months, in a spate of court cases.

And even as the City defended its long-standing, consistent intentions to mitigate the danger of lead exposure in New Haven residential units, evidence has emerged to suggest potential ambiguities in the city’s lead paint ordinance, and perhaps some inconsistencies in the city’s response to cases of lead-related illness as a result.

One of these recent cases prompts today’s press announcement: the City had a deadline today to appeal a recent court injunction handed down regarding a specific case at a specific address.

And even though a recent inspection at that address turned up no lead accessible to children inside the apartment, suggesting the child’s exposure was elsewhere, perhaps even in some other jurisdiction, the City will not appeal that injunction.

Instead, I announce this as the first of my five-point plan to advance the city’s case against lead exposure: the city will use this recent spate of lawsuits as a springboard to refine its ordinance, eliminate any potential ambiguity in its language, and go forward with a plan of action triggered by a blood-level of five micrograms per deciliter, even as state law requires action at 20.

My team has already been working with Aldermanic leadership to prepare them for proposed, amended language, to be communicated later this month with hopes the Board’s review process will begin right away in August.

The second part of the plan: personnel adjustments in the city’s health department, to include a national search to fill the vacant director’s position with someone who has a proven record in this area of lead exposure mitigation.

In the shorter term on the personnel front, we’re exploring the possibility of hiring a consultant or specialist on a contract basis to help with the city’s program – again, for the short term.

The third aspect of the plan is fortification of the city’s lead inspection protocol, with more inspectors on the street to start bringing technology into the field in the form of electronic tablets, to standardize inspections, create digital records, and provide clear communications to all applicable city departments.

The fourth component of my plan is a revitalized outreach, awareness, and education program to engage parents, landlords, and property owners about THEIR responsibility in preventing lead exposure. The city must have these engaged partners going forward to maintain that first degree of separation between children and lead.

For instance, it is already against state law for landlords or property management companies to rent units with identified lead hazards to families with children under the age of six years.

The mandate of this law must be broadcast from New Haven rooftops so compliance with this first line of defense is administered with every single apartment rental agreement and signed lease.

And the fifth pillar upon which this plan rests is the financial component.

Once again, working with our partners on the Board of Alders, the city will prepare to meet its responsibility regarding inspection cost, underwriting lead abatement projects if necessary, and relocating families ‘as’ necessary during any abatement projects.

My financial team is already working to expand an existing program in which a ‘lien’ is placed on property requiring abatement, exploring how a revolving loan fund might work to underwrite these projects, or perhaps bringing state or federal resources to bear.

This last point became self-evident as soon as we likened New Haven’s potential lead exposure in housing stock, estimated to be some 20,000 units, with sinking homes in other parts of the city, crumbling foundations in other parts of the state, and other enormous challenges no city can be expected to bear on its own.

In a curious irony, the City of New Haven has New Haven Legal Assistance, its legal opponent in recent lead exposure cases, to thank for questioning what I described a few minutes ago: potential ambiguities in the city’s lead paint ordinance, and perhaps some inconsistencies that result in the city’s response to lead-related illness.

I think we can all agree: the most important take-away from these disagreements is a clear path forward to safeguard the well-being of children in New Haven.

Finally, all of us gathered this afternoon should remain certain of several things.

First, New Haven’s commitment to protecting children from lead exposure has never wavered, from its first ban of lead paint in 1974 to its 25-year-old public awareness, inspection, and abatement program, to its extraordinary action plan at five micrograms per deciliter – far surpassing the state standard of 20.

Second, New Haven’s decades-long commitment on this issue has resulted in a declining number of lead exposure illnesses – so much so, in fact, that Yale/New Haven Hospital closed its lead clinic several years ago.

For those looking for numbers to underscore this progress: in 2016, there were 228 children reported with blood levels in the five to nine range.

That number dropped to 171 in 2017, and then it dropped again to 104 in 2018. The plan I’ve outlined today will hasten progress already underway.

The third thing to be certain about, going forward, is this: New Haven will continue setting the standard on this important policy issue, now with every intention of making New Haven known as Connecticut’s ‘lead-safe’ city.”

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