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Lower East Side building tested for lead levels 37 times health standards

The Ludlow Street building is the latest Lower Manhattan property to test for extraordinary lead levels

Lower East Side, Manhattan
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A building run by real estate firm Delshah Capital is the latest Lower East Side building to test for staggeringly high levels of lead dust—37 times higher than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s standard, according to a city-commissioned report.

The December report, obtained by tenants-rights group the Cooper Square Committee, shows 11 of 17 samples collected at 138 Ludlow Street had lead levels far exceeding federal health standards with one staircase testing for 1447 micrograms of lead per square foot—the EPA standard is 39 micrograms per square foot.

Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOH) spokesperson Michael Lanza confirmed that city inspectors responded to a December 24 311 complaint of unsafe construction at the six-story building and collected dust samples that tested for dangerously high levels of lead.

“The owner of the building was ordered to safely clean the site, follow safe work practices, and submit clearance dust wipe sample results to the Health Department following final clean-up,” Lanza told Curbed in a statement.

Public housing in the city is in the midst of a lead crisis, with more than 1,100 children poisoned by lead since 2012, but those living in privately-owned properties also face their share of struggles with exposure, including dust from reckless construction often used as a means to push out tenants, according to advocates.

“We often see this work being performed hastily in order to drive up rents and deregulate apartments,” said Liam Reilly, a housing organizer at the Cooper Square Committee.

The Lower East Side and the East Village are plagued with privately-owned buildings that have faced lead dust contamination due to shoddy construction, including properties owned by infamous landlords Samy Mahfar, Raphael Toledano, and Steve Croman.

Lead exposure can cause a slew of health impacts including increased blood pressure, decreased kidney function, or reproductive problems in men and women. Children under six are especially susceptible to the heavy metal and can face developmental delays, behavioral and learning problems, and anemia due to exposure, according to the EPA.

At least three young children are living in 138 Ludlow Street, according to the Cooper Square Committee, which is working with the building’s tenants. Photos taken by residents show dust-laden bootprints tracked throughout the walk-up—particularly concentrated near a construction site in the building.

Michael Shah, the head of Delshah Capital, told Curbed that the lead dust has since been cleaned and that the firm is “doing everything in our power to ensure the safety and health of our residents and their children.”

“In short, we have had a certified lead abatement company come out to the site and remediate all of the locations in the city-commissioned report,” he said. “We are additionally going to test any apartment with a minor child (the city requires testing only for children under 6, but we feel better to be more cautious), and we are re-testing the ‘hot’ locations after cleanup to confirm proper remediation and healthy levels.”

In two January follow-up visits, DOH inspectors observed no dust at the address, Lanza said.

But some tenants may have already felt the impacts of living with lead dust, including Mayra Hernandez, who claims she and her daughter have suffered health problems.

“[My daughter] got eye and ear infections and she had to go to the hospital many times. Since they started breaking the walls, I myself have been sick, too,” Hernandez said, describing tightness in her chest. “It’s not just my family. It’s all the people in the building.”

Laws, including Local Law 1 passed in 2004, are already on the books to ensure health and safety measures are taken to protect tenants, but advocates say they lack enforcement and don’t go far enough.

On Monday, the city announced a new initiative in its efforts to eliminate childhood lead exposure and says it will police private landlords—97 percent of the city’s children are exposed to lead paint in private housing, according to the de Blasio administration. The $180 million program will expand the number of lead-paint inspectors, allow for more audits of landlords, and cover the cost of repairs. It will also fund ad campaigns aimed at raising awareness on the issue.

Additionally, the New York City Council is in the midst of an overhaul of the city’s lead laws—the biggest since 2004—with the introduction of 23 bills last spring that aim to eliminate lead poisoning across the city.

Even still, there is no excuse for landlords who poison their tenants, said Jodie Leidecker, a housing organizer at the Cooper Square Committee.

“Local Law 1 has been in effect since 2004—every landlord, including Michael Shah, is required to protect tenants in their buildings by knowing and adhering to this law which has now been in effect for over 25 years,” Leidecker said.