cant paint over the problem: Arbor Hill groups
announce their lawsuit at City Hall press conference.
by Joe Putrock.
the Lead Out—the Right Way
Albany neighborhood group sues the city over its lead-paint
had bags of fake money, some wore hockey masks, and many held
signs that read, “Get the lead out,” “Stop putting children
at risk” and “Test the soil.” This was the scene in front
of City Hall in Albany yesterday (Wednesday) at a press conference
held by The Arbor Hill Concerned Citizens Neighborhood Association.
The group held the conference to announce that it has filed
a lawsuit in federal court against the city of Albany for
what it claims is the city’s use of unqualified lead-abatement
workers in its award-winning lead-abatement program.
lawsuit doesn’t ask for a single dollar for personal injury
or property damage,” said Aaron Mair, president of AHCCNA.
“Our priority is the health and well-being of the families
who may be standing in harm’s way, and that is why we are
asking the court to order the city to stop violating the law
and to ensure that the improperly abated homes are safe for
the people living there.”
AHCCNA and other groups allege that the city violated the
Toxic Substance Control Act by using unqualified lead contractors
and failing to comply with work practice standards set forth
by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The Natural Resources
Defense Council and local attorneys Marc Gerstman and Gary
Bowitch represent AHCCNA in the suit.
As of Wednesday afternoon, Gary Stiglmeier, city corporation
counsel, said that the city had not yet been served with the
lawsuit, so he could not comment on the details of the case.
But he did add that his office received a request from the
city to obtain outside counsel. So far nobody has been hired.
“We have no comment other than that we are completely confident
in the lead-paint program that we administered,” said Stiglmeier.
The AHCCNA had given the city 60 days to respond to its intent
to sue or reach an out-of-court settlement, but heard nothing
in that time from city officials.
Since 1995, the city has received three grants totaling $13
million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
to conduct lead-paint abatement work in low-income housing
projects. The work, however, is subject to EPA regulations,
which require all lead contractors, risk assessors and inspectors
to be certified and trained according to EPA standards. Workers
are required to undergo training and testing to ensure that
they are knowledgeable of and skilled in proper removal of
lead paint to protect the health and safety of the public.
Exposure to lead is linked to a number of serious health problems,
especially in children, such as nervous-system damage, brain
injuries, learning disabilities and behavioral problems. Although
the Consumer Product Safety Commission banned
lead paint in 1978, a number of children living in older homes
are still at risk for exposure from chipping or peeling lead
paint, or by inhaling excessive amounts of lead-contaminated
Michelle Alvarez, National Resources Defense Council staff
attorney, said that since March 2000 it was required that
all workers be certified through the EPA. However, many of
the city’s lead workers, including the city’s lead inspectors
and risk assessors, did not have this certification. And the
ones who were certified didn’t receive their credentials until
December 2001. As a result, she added, some standards were
not followed while workers removed or contained lead-based
paint in a number of homes. For example, she said, workers
did not take soil samples to test the levels of lead in the
ground, nor did they prepare written occupant- protection
plans for some of the houses.
Joseph Montana, director of housing and community development
for the city of Albany, said he could not comment on the case
itself but insisted that Albany’s program is one of the best
in the country. “We are rated as one of the best programs
that grants have come out through HUD,” said Montana. “We
go around to all the lead conferences and speak about our
program, so we must be doing something right.”
City of Albany claims to have one of the top lead-paint programs
in the country,” said Rodney Davis, executive director of
the Arbor Hill Environmental Justice Corporation. “However,
given the evidence of mismanagement that we’ve seen, we have
to wonder, is the Albany program a model or a sham?”
critics accuse Bush of playing politics with a U.N. family
planning program, the European Union steps up to replace some
of the lost U.S. funding
was a bittersweet victory last week for family planning advocates
in the United States and around the world.
Last month, President George W. Bush went forth with his plan
to withhold $34 million from the United Nations Population
Fund (founded as the United Nations Fund for Population Activities,
the organization retains its original acronym, UNFPA). But
then the European Union announced that it would give $24 million
in extra aid to make up for the funding gap left by the United
of the way it is designated, it will not replace the U.S.
funds,” said Blue Carreker, director of public affairs and
marketing for Upper Hudson Planned Parenthood. “It’s an important
gesture, one which underscores the Bush administration’s lack
of compassion and lack of commitment to international collaboration,
but it still leaves crucial UNFPA programs underfunded and
Carreker explained that although the money from the European
Union is greatly needed, there are constraints on how it can
be used. One criterion is that the money be spent on programs
that serve 22 of the poorest countries that receive UNFPA
assistance. The core funding from the United States did not
have such restriction, so the money usually was spent on programs
that needed it most.
UNFPA offers voluntary family planning, such as pre- and post-natal
care, gynecological exams, AIDS testing and education, contraception
and general health screening, for women who normally would
not receive such medical attention. According to Carreker,
the UNFPA provides services in countries where many other
service organizations do not go, like Afghanistan, China and
Many critics are calling Bush’s decision another apparent
bow to the Christian right. But according to Bush spokesman
Richard Boucher, the decision to withdraw the funding was
based on UNFPA’s support for specific Chinese agencies that
were thought to be coercing women into having abortions and
money is fungible,” Boucher said in a statement on the White
House Web site, “we won’t be giving our money to a U.N. program
that then gives money to Chinese agencies that then carry
out these coercive abortion programs.”
A 1985 law prohibits U.S. aid money from “any organization
or program that, as determined by the President of the United
States, supports or participates in the management of a program
of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization in the People’s
Republic of China.”
Lori Hogans, spokeswoman for New York State Right to Life
Committee, is pleased with Bush’s decision. “This is something
that everyone should agree on,” said Hogans. “The UNFPA has
been involved in policies that are pro-coercive and that are
certainly anti-choice. The quote-unquote pro-choice movement
says they believe in choice, and yet these women are being
forced to abort their children or forcefully be sterilized,
which is a vile attack on human rights.”
However, according to an article in The New York
Times, in May, the Bush administration sent a fact-finding
mission to China, which found no evidence that the UNFPA “knowingly
supported or participated in programs of coercive abortion
or involuntary sterilization”—not the first time a fact-finding
team has come away without evidence to back up Bush’s claim.
But, according to Boucher, since UNFPA worked with Chinese
state agencies in some countries where such practices take
place, all U.S. funds have been cut.
Many lawmakers were angered by Bush’s decision and called
it a slap in the face to the bipartisan position Congress
took in support of UNFPA. Lawmakers vowed to overturn the
administration’s decision in next year’s spending bill, which
will be written this summer.
Boucher added that U.S. funds for family planning and reproductive
health will be spent through United States Agency for International
Development programs and not through UNFPA. But Carreker charged
that U.S. groups simply don’t go to the same places that UNFPA
goes. Therefore, she added, many women will be left without
crucial care. “It’s out the window for good that the Bush
administration has any concern for women in Afghanistan or
anywhere else,” said Carreker. “He has cut off access to the
most important health-care screening services and reproductive
health-care needs for women who are most at risk.”
The Other Green Party
K. Leighton has no illusions about winning his campaign for
governor of New York, but he has a vision.
goal of this campaign is to get 50,000 votes,” said Leighton,
New York’s Marijuana Reform Party gubernatorial candidate,
“get the one percent [of the vote], and create a vehicle to
bring the issues to the governorship.”
and the MRP are in the midst of collecting the 15,000 signatures
necessary to file a petition of public support that would
grant him an official line on New York’s 2002 gubernatorial
ballot. The group would need 50,000 votes on Election Day
to become an official political party and receive automatic
ballot status in 2006.
to Leighton, having New York join the nine states that have
legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes is the main goal
of his gubernatorial campaign.
are suffering and people are in pain, and medicinal marijuana
can relieve their pain,” Leighton said. “The more it is researched,
the more using marijuana for medical purposes is shown to
be helpful. Physicians, not politicians, should be practicing
17, 1999, the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine
concluded that “there are some limited circumstances in which
we recommend smoking marijuana for medical uses,” including
relief of chronic pain, nausea, muscle spasms and eye problems,
and to stimulate appetite.
said that unlike the lip service paid to drug-law reform by
incumbent Gov. George Pataki, the MRP’s top priority would
be a total repeal of the state’s often-criticized Rockefeller
drug laws—a reform, he said, that is overdue.
has spoken about repealing the laws for eight years, and that’s
great, but it’s time for action,” Leighton said. “Neither
the Senate or Assembly are committed to complete reforms,
both are tinkering with what is already there, and our feeling
is that they should be repealed outright.”
is hopeful about this year’s campaign, but knows that his
long-term goals of legalizing marijuana for recreational purposes
and pushing for legislation allowing farmers to cultivate
hemp, a related plant that can be utilized to make textiles,
paper, paints and clothing, will depend on whether MRP candidates
can eventually be elected to office in New York.
is a war on drugs, and we have to be available to the people,”
Leighton said. “We are the only organization in the state
offering the voters a chance to influence legislators on this
issue, and if we get the 50,000 votes, if we create this party,
for the next four years these issues will be before the voters.”