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Know Your Rights
Source: Make the Road New York
Subject: Housing & Environmental Justice
Type: Pubs & Reports

Toxic Homes



Bushwick is a low-income, predominantly Latino and African-American neighborhood located in North Brooklyn, New York City. Bushwick residents face a number of major environmental health problems that are caused by bad indoor housing conditions. Because of exposure to lead
paint in people’s homes, there are extremely high levels of lead poisoning
in the community.i Also, because of the high incidence of asthma
triggers, such as cockroaches, mice, rats and mold, there is a high
incidence of asthma in Bushwick. The NYC Department of Health and
Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) has recently found that Bushwick and the
neighboring community Williamsburg have asthma rates four times the
average of NYC.

In addition to these health problems, concern is rising over the use of
indoor pesticides by landlords and tenants in Bushwick. Studies show
that exposure to pesticides can cause negative long lasting health
problems, and exacerbate other health problems such as asthma,
especially for children.iii Frequently used household sprays and foggers
often contain ingredients such as fipronil and permethrin, both of which
are linked to causing headaches, nausea, and skin irritations.iv A recent
study by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) suggests that the
residue of these pesticides linger in homes, continually exposing people
and young children to the risks attached to these chemicals.v
Furthermore, the EPA classifies permethrin as a possible human

The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene
(NYCDHMH) advocates for the use of Integrated Pest Management
(IPM), a more holistic approach that seeks to address the root causes of
pest infestations and limit the use of strong chemicals in the home. In
2005 the City passed Local Law 37 in an effort to curb the use of
pesticides in city properties. Local Law 37 emphasizes the use of IPM
strategies and also promotes the surveillance and reporting of pesticide
use in these properties. viii This same procedure of tracking and
recording the use of pesticides should be applied to all our New York City
homes and communities to ensure safe and healthy housing.

In order to learn how to best address the extensive problem of indoor
toxins in people’s homes in Bushwick, in the Fall of 2009, Make the Road
NY conducted 120 surveys and interviews in the community and
compiled this report. “Toxic Homes” reveals that Bushwick residents are
exposed to high incidences of pests and pesticides in their homes. We
show that current city regulations fail to hold negligent landlords
accountable for making necessary repairs in people’s homes. We also
find that while community members are overwhelmingly interested
learning less toxic and more effective approaches, such as IPM, to
controlling pests besides pesticides, they currently lack the educational
resources to implement these safer practices. We conclude our report by
recommending that community groups and the DOHMH provide greater
education for tenants about IPM alternatives and that the City should
create enforceable regulations for indoor asthma triggers.