Bill would require study of lead paint levels at elevated train tracks

Photo by Daniel Schwen via Wikipedia Commons

In the midst of New York City’s public transit crisis, state lawmakers are urging Gov. Andrew Cuomo to sign a bill that would require city transit officials begin a study to determine the amount of lead paint in elevated parts of the subway system.

Sen. Jose Peralta, D-Queens, and Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, D-Bronx, urged Cuomo to sign the transit bill they sponsored (S.5754/A.7562) that would direct the MTA and New York City Transit Authority to undertake a comprehensive study to determine the amount of lead paint in above-ground subway stations, tracks and trestles throughout the city.

The bill was written after a local chapter of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades published reports that paint chips falling onto the streets from the elevated 7 line in Jackson Heights contained 40 times more lead than the legal limit.

Under current standards, 5,000 parts per million is the threshold and samples from the 7 subway structure reportedly contained 224,000 ppm.

Exposure to lead has proven to cause severe health issues. Children under six are especially sensitive to lead poisoning, which can cause behavioral problems, seizures, and even death. Prolonged lead exposure can cause cardiovascular problems, brain damage, and nervous system damage in adults.

The proposed legislation passed through both the Senate and Assembly last month before the session ended but has not yet reached Cuomo’s desk.

The MTA and New York City Transit Authority have already had a particularly rough summer, which critics are calling the “Summer of Hell.” Amtrak has been making repairs on Penn Station which has caused widespread delays on subways and trains throughout the city.

Supporters of the bill believe that it is another necessary step to ensure that public transportation is safe for everyone.

“This is about protecting New Yorkers and ensuring their safety. High levels of lead paint in chips falling onto the streets and sidewalk endanger the lives of neighbors, visitors, shoppers, and commuters,” Peralta said. “It is imperative that we remove hazardous lead paint from aboveground subway lines throughout the city. It is my hope the governor sings this bill into law in order to solve these dangerous situations.”

The 52nd Street station in Jackson Heights, where the presence of lead was first reported, is located in Peralta’s district.

“In the heart of my district, the 7 Train runs above Roosevelt Avenue, a crowded area full of shops, restaurants and street vendors,” said Peralta, “so it is important we protect everyone from these falling paint chips containing high levels of lead. It is my hope that the MTA acts and remedies this situation and prevents anyone from getting sick from lead paint exposure, which can be poisonous.”

If the bill is signed into law, the study would be conducted in cooperation with the state DEC and the Department of Health. The purpose of the study is to measure the amount of lead paint and then determine whether city transit agencies are in compliance with state and federal regulations.

The MTA would also be required to submit a report to lawmakers containing recommendations to eliminate possible exposure to lead paint.

“We cannot expect people to live and work while being forced to use subway platforms coated in flaking lead-paint chips that may increase their risk of lead poisoning,” said Dinowitz. “It is almost inconceivable in this day and age that people must put up with any lead-poisoning related dangers, yet this legislation will go some way toward ending this problem. Now we are counting on the governor to sign this bill into law to protect New Yorkers.”

The bill itself has nominal fiscal implications but part of the study would be detailing the fiscal implications of the recommendations proposed in the MTA’s abatement report.