An audit by the city comptroller's office found that Department of Mental Health and Hygeine falsified records to show that lead tests were completed at some daycare centers in the city, even though they hadn't.
In 2008, water lead tests became a requirement at all permitted daycare centers, but the audit from Scott Stringer's office revealed that of 119 centers permitted between August 2012 and 2014, only 49 had their water tested for lead, and five of those were found to have unacceptable lead levels. Four took action to correct that, and in the fifth instance, the DOHMH determined that the lead levels were within acceptable ranges, though the American Academy of Pediatrics argues that there's no such thing.
The audit also found that DOHMH officials instructed staff members to enter false information in their tracking database to say that lead tests had been conducted when they had not. The department told Stringer's office that it had stopped falsifying records in 2012, but the sample that auditors looked at found the practice was ongoing.
"The health of our children is non-negotiable," Stringer said yesterday. "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."
In accusing the DOHMH of falsifying records, Stringer cited a 2011 email in which a manager at the department's Bureau of Child Care told staffers to input "Water Lead Test Negative" in a database, even if the daycare center hadn't necessarily received a test. But officials disputed that this amounted to falsification: a spokesperson for the Mayor's office said that “it is a blatant mischaracterization to claim the agency systematically falsified documents based on a single email from 2011," and DOHMH officials explained that this method was a workaround intended to give daycares 60 days to submit their test results.
DOHMH spokesperson Christopher Miller told the Times that the city has fixed the problems brought up in the audit, testing all daycare centers for lead, and that they will start posting those results online. He added that "we want to be clear: our kids are not at risk."
Still, some parents were concerned by news of the audit's results: parent Judith Deleon told CBS "that's why my kids don't drink out of the water fountain," while Eddie Garcia said, "We're taxpayers. We pay our money for this not to happen."
But health officials were adamant that there's no risk. NYC Health Commissioner Mary Bassett told ABC that while the audit "shows some deficiencies in the system...we now have results back on 97 percent of our childcare centers, and we know that about five percent of them had elevated lead levels and all of those have been corrected...What I would want to know as a parent is that we have never associated lead poisoning in a child with elevated lead levels in water."