BY JON CRONIN
City Comptroller Scott Stringer announced last week that of approximately 2,300 Group Child/Day Care centers across New York City, almost 60 percent of them failed to ensure that childcare providers tested their water for lead.
The risk to thousands of pre-schoolers was discovered in an audit by NYC Comptroller Scott M. Stringer. Stringer’s auditors claimed that DOHMH officials ordered staff members “to enter false information into the agency’s tracking database to indicate that a lead test was completed at centers in a sample of daycare centers, even when it had not been.”
“The health of our children is non-negotiable,” 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.”
Julian Martinez, a spokesperson for the DOHMH, said, “The Health Department has addressed water test reporting issues that dated back to 2012. All child care centers have been tested for lead in water, and for parents’ peace of mind we will soon post the status of each test online.
But the fact remains: water is not a source of lead poisoning in New York City – lead in water tests aim to ensure that aging pipes are not disturbing the excellent quality of our water. We want to be clear: our kids are not at risk.”
According to the DOHMH, “Water is not a cause of lead poisoning in New York City. Most often, paint is implicated. Of the 840 children under 6 years of age that were identified with elevated blood lead levels in 2014 (most recent confirmed data), none were attributed to lead in water and lead poisoning among children has fallen by 80 percent since 2012.
The auditors only reviewed a sample of 119 permits issued between Aug. 29, 2012 and Aug. 29, 2014, to make sure those daycares were properly permitted. Out of those 119, only 49 were tested. Of those 49, five had “unacceptable levels of lead,” stated a release from Stringer’s office. Three of those five submitted a corrective plan and were later cleared of lead contamination.
Stringer’s auditors could not find at the DOHMH either hardcopy or digital files that testing ever occurred at the other 70 centers and written instructions were found that ordered to falsely record that lead testing was conducted at those sites so permits could be given.
According to Stringer’s office the DOHMH said test failures had “the unintended result of blocking renewal permits, which prompted them to create the ‘workaround’ of instructing their staff to enter incorrect information into CCATS,” and that testing would only be conducted when there was evidence that children had lead poisoning.
A DOHMH spokesperson noted, “The Health Code does not stipulate the need of a water test for permitting a child care facility.”
Stringer’s audit also states that DOHMH said this testing is under the purview of the Administration for Children’s Services or the New York City Housing Authority with whom these agencies were affiliated, but had no evidence to support it. Upon further investigation they found that 52 of those 70 had no affiliation with either ACS or NYCHA.
Finally, the agency said it had ended the practice of entering false information about lead tests in 2012. But the auditor’s sample, for permits from 2012 through 2014, found the practice had not changed.
DOHMH has since reviewed all 70 sites. Nine of them are closed and the remaining 61 are compliant.
Stringer’s office announced that DOHMH reviewed its entire database, “to finally ensure that lead tests had been conducted at all sites and found that 95 percent of the 2,300 daycare center sites did not have elevated lead levels and the remaining five percent had begun remediation.”
Reach Jon Cronin at 718-357-7400 x125, firstname.lastname@example.org, or @JonathanSCronin.