The leaders of a NYCHA unit charged with removing lead from public housing routinely falsified records meant to ensure the work was supervised, leaving an untold number of families at greater risk of lead poisoning, according to a new investigation.

The report — released Thursday by the city's Department of Investigation, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development — followed a 2017 whistleblower complaint from an EPA-certified lead inspector. He alleged that the manager of NYCHA's Lead Unit, Ralph Iacono, repeatedly pressured him to sign his name to paperwork for lead abatement jobs that he did not supervise.

Investigators confirmed those allegations, finding that Iacono and Robert Stern, the former head of NYCHA's Environmental Field Operations, caused the agency to file hundreds of EPA notifications falsely stating that certified supervisors oversaw abatement work between 2013 and 2018.

The signatures allowed NYCHA to claim an exemption on visual lead assessment's otherwise required by HUD. "Since 2013," the report states, "none of NYCHA’s lead abatement jobs were ever supervised by an EPA-certified lead supervisor."

Lead is a neurotoxin that can cause permanent brain damage to children if imbibed or inhaled, typically in the form of dust from lead paint or paint chips. Eliminating lead paint hazards in an apartment requires specialized techniques, according to the EPA, and improper abatement can in some cases make the problem worse.

It's not known how many apartments may have been impacted by the years-long deception. A spokesperson for NYCHA said the agency had begun the process of re-inspections, but was still working to identify the full universe of apartments granted a waiver during this time period.

Iacono was suspended without pay this past Monday, after NYCHA received the full DOI report. Stern has since retired.

In a statement, Margaret Garnett, the city's investigations commissioner, said the findings illustrated "the profound and damaging impact of government wrongdoing and incompetence."

"NYCHA managers involved in the lead abatement process had a total disregard for the facts, for the law and integrity, and, most importantly, for the well-being of NYCHA residents," she added.

The housing agency had already agreed to review its compliance with EPA abatement regulations as part of a federal monitor agreement reached in 2019. This past October, the monitor revealed that the number of children exposed to lead paint in the city's public housing buildings was three times greater than previously thought. At least 9,000 apartments where children under the age of 6 reside were confirmed to have lead paint.

"As stated by the Inspector General, NYCHA cooperated with this investigation and has made significant systemic changes to its lead abatement program," Barbara Brancaccio, the agency's chief communications officer, said in a statement.

"NYCHA continues to work with the Federal Monitor to establish the highest standards for its policies and programs, not only to fulfill the terms of the 2019 HUD Agreement and bring the Authority into compliance but also to rebuild a culture of employee service and accountability; regain resident, employee, and public trust; and ensure this never happens again.”