Sixteen daycare centers in Brooklyn failed to meet lead testing requirements for their water supply, and some were found to contain dangerous levels of the highly poisonous metal, according to an audit released on Friday June 24, by New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer. In addition, Department of Health and Mental Hygiene officials were caught falsifying lead testing records in daycare centers in order to expedite permits, leaving hundreds of children city-wide exposed to potential lead poisoning.
The audit, conducted by the City Agency, found that the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH), which oversees 2,300 daycare centers throughout New York City, failed to enforce requirements for lead testing in the water supply of New York City daycare centers.
Of the 119 open daycare centers sampled, nearly 70 showed no evidence of required lead testing. Of 49 centers that did have testing records, five showed dangerous levels requiring immediate action — two centers in Brooklyn. The DOHMH indicated that it would only require further testing if high amounts of lead were present in a child’s blood, according to the audit report.
“The health of our children is non-negotiable,” Comptroller Stringer said. “The fact that the Department of Health directed its employees to enter false information in an official database is a blatant violation of public trust. It should not take an audit to ensure that a City agency is doing its job to protect our kids.”
Symptoms of lead poisoning are hard to detect, according to the Mayo Clinic, but lead exposure can cause severe mental and physical impairment in young children, and in some cases death.
All daycare centers are required to test their water supply for lead, based on a 2008 City Health Code amendment, but the amendment lacks specifications like when and how often to conduct tests. To ensure proper enforcement, the DOHMH added a measure in 2011 that required daycare centers to show proof of lead testing in order to receive operational permits.
But the recent audit revealed that between 2012 and 2014, DOHMH officials directed their staff to falsify information in the agency’s tracking database, overriding their own requirements by saying that lead testing had been completed at daycare centers where it had been skipped, according to email records discovered during the audit.
As a rebuttal, the DOHMH stated that the testing requirement created the unintended consequence of blocking renewal permits for daycare centers, and thus entered false information as a ‘workaround’, according to audit reports.
In Brooklyn, sixteen daycare centers from the sample were operating without a proper water lead test, including:
Prospect Lefferts Gardens:
- First Stepping Stone LLC, 4017 Church Avenue between East 40th Street and Albany Avenue
- Congregation Keshet Beanan, 1612 Quentin Road
- Labor & Industry for Education, Inc. 2757 West 33rd Street, between Neptune and Bayview Avenues
- Ms Sunshine Inc., 3096 Brighton 6th Street, between Brighton Beach Avenue and Brightwater Court
- N & B Friendship Inc. 4317 Avenue D, between east 43rd Street and Troy Avenue
- First Choice Academy Day Care Inc., 192 East 58th Street, between Snyder and Tilden Avenues
Boerum Hill/Fort Greene:
- Sunset Bay Community Services, Inc. 343 Warren Street, between Smith and Hoyt Streets [Listed as Warren Street Center for Children and Families” Sunset Bay Community Services is listed at 150 55th Street]
Sunset Park & Borough Park:
- Sunny Skies DC Corp. 969 43rd Street between 9th and 10th Avenues [Listed address: 4301 10th Avenue]
Out of the 49 daycare centers that had submitted lead water tests city-wide, five were found to have dangerous levels of lead and have since begun the remediation process. Two out of the five were in Brooklyn:
- Sunset Park: Catholic Charities Neighborhood Services, Inc. 5902 6th Avenue, between 59th and 60th Streets [Listed as Catholic Charities Social Services Organization 6823 5th Avenue]
- Bedford Stuyvesant: Catholic Charities Neighborhood Services, Inc. 300 Vernon Avenue, between Marcus Garvey Boulevard and Lewis Avenue, a few blocks from the Sumner public housing buildings.
Three daycare centers subsequently submitted a corrective action plan and later received acceptable water lead tests; one remediated the condition and submitted a test that was acceptable to the DOHMH.
The audit made eight recommendations to the DOHMH to protect young children in New York City, including improved enforcement for regulatory testing. The DOHMH agreed with six of the audit’s recommendations, but disagreed with two — one that requires the completion of a water lead test before a new or renewal permit is issued, and a second that recommends that DOHMH ensure controls to mitigate its exposure to fraudulent activities.