Lead Laws and Environmental Justice in New York

The New York Environmental Lawyer, Vol. 39, No. 1, Fall/Winter 2019

10 Pages Posted: 10 Dec 2019

See all articles by Katrina Korfmacher

Katrina Korfmacher

University of Rochester

Emily A. Benfer

Wake Forest University - School of Law

Matthew Chachere

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Date Written: November 22, 2019

Abstract

Federal law banned the use of lead in paint and gasoline in the late 1970’s. Since that time, population-wide levels of lead poisoning have declined dramatically. Nonetheless, lead poisoning remains a key environmental health risk, particularly for children living in older housing in disrepair. Widespread publicity about the lead contamination of Flint’s water supply in 2014 raised public awareness that lead remains in our environment. Today, pre-1978 paint, lead-contaminated dust and soil, leaded pipes and solder, imported consumer goods, among other sources, threaten the health and well-being of the population, especially children.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), New York has more children identified with elevated blood lead levels (EBLL) than any other state. Up to 108,000 young children in the state may have BLL of 5 micrograms per deciliter (µg/dL) or higher. New York has both the nation’s greatest number (over 4 million units), the highest percentage (55.08%) of pre-1960 and pre-1950 (41.0%) housing, and the oldest housing inventory among the fifty states. This older housing stock places residents at great risk of exposure to lead hazards. Low-income children living in older housing have the highest risk of lead poisoning. Therefore, lead is widely recognized as an issue of environmental justice.

In 2019, New York adopted the CDC reference value by lowering the statewide definition of “elevated blood lead level” (EBLL) from 10 µg/dL to 5 µg/dL. This means that many more children will now be considered to have an EBLL and will receive interventions earlier in the timeline of exposure, with concomitant costs for the expanded public health response. Nonetheless, a child must still be lead poisoned and suffer permanent brain damage before any interventions occur, such as a lead hazard inspection or nurse case management. At the same time, federal and state efforts to promote primary prevention of lead exposure appear to have stalled. This begs the question of what can be done at the state and local levels to prevent lead poisoning and its deleterious consequences.

Addressing lead’s contribution to the health disparities faced by children living in environmental justice communities is a particular concern. This article presents a brief overview of lead poisoning in New York, current policy approaches in the state, and future opportunities for effective prevention.

Keywords: health, housing, environmental, justice, social determinants of health, lead poisoning, neurotoxin, law

Suggested Citation

Korfmacher, Katrina and Benfer, Emily and Chachere, Matthew, Lead Laws and Environmental Justice in New York (November 22, 2019). The New York Environmental Lawyer, Vol. 39, No. 1, Fall/Winter 2019, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3492119

Katrina Korfmacher

University of Rochester ( email )

300 Crittenden Blvd.
Rochester, NY 14627
United States

Emily Benfer (Contact Author)

Wake Forest University - School of Law ( email )

P.O. Box 7206
Winston-Salem, NC 27109
United States

Matthew Chachere

affiliation not provided to SSRN

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