City Hall is Leaden

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Forget banjos. The latest round of dueling bills to fight lead poisoning heated up last month on the steps of City Hall. The New York City Coalition to End Lead Poisoning (NYCELP) joined with 22 physicians, several nonprofit housing developers and Public Advocate Mark Green to demand City Council action on a bill the coalition helped craft with Councilman Stanley Michels–and has been stalled in the housing and buildings committee for several months.

Thirty-three councilmembers supported the bill when it was introduced April 30, but since then Deputy Majority Leader Archie Spigner has proposed alternative legislation with broad landlord support. Neither bill has yet come up for a hearing, and the mayor’s position remains unclear.

The Michels/NYCELP bill would require landlords to repair peeling paint and other hazardous lead conditions within strict time limits, and to remove or cover up all lead paint on window and door frames when an apartment is vacated. It would also require strict adherence to Department of Health abatement guidelines, and would apply to schools, daycare centers and playgrounds in addition to housing. Spigner’s proposal is reportedly less stringent, but copies of his bill are not yet available and the council-man’s office refused to comment

The stakes for passing a new law remain high. Each year, 2,000 new cases of lead poisoning crop up in the city and more go unreported because many children are never screened for lead. “It’s a completely preventable problem,” says Mark Colon, an environmental advocate and organizer with the New York Public Interest Research group.