By David Cruz
Conjuring images of brown water taken from taps in Michigan, two New Jersey Democrats say it’s up to lawmakers to safeguard the nation’s drinking water, especially in schools, which, in recent years, have proved to be a hot zone for lead contamination. Sen. Cory Booker and Congressman Josh Gottheimer today said they will seek a legislative remedy.
“Since 2000, according to the Environment New Jersey Research and Policy Center, more than 225,000 children in our state were reported to have elevated levels of lead in their blood,” noted Gottheimer, who represents Hackensack in Congress. “That’s simply unacceptable.”
Learning disabilities, weight loss, kidney and nervous system damage, seizures, hearing loss and more. That’s the potential damage from excessive exposure to lead, which caused a scare in places like Newark, Paterson and elsewhere.
“It was astonishing to me, as a mayor, that I found that kids were not only dealing with lead paint, but there was lead in our soil, dioxins in our rivers, that the environmental justice issues in this country, threatening our children, threatening communities and families, was not at the forefront of our national agenda,” added Booker, a former mayor of Newark. “We’re weren’t making the investments.”
So, in the Senate, Booker says he will introduce the Get the Lead Out of Schools Act. The bill would establish a grant program to help school systems recoup the cost of making their water infrastructure – including pipes and drinking fountains – lead free. The bill would also make monitoring of lead levels more stringent. A Gottheimer bill – introduced in April – would also help reimburse districts and would require test results be made easily accessible to parents.
“You know, school kids, when they’re sent off to school, they shouldn’t have to be carrying a text book, a laptop and a water bottle. It’s just not right,” said NJ Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittle.
Neither lawmaker speculated on what the chances of their bills might be except to say the potential damage that can be caused by prolonged exposure to lead, in drinking water or elsewhere, knows no political boundaries.
“This is just not partisan,” concluded Gottheimer. “It’s not a Democrat or Republican issue. It’s a 5th district issue; it’s a New Jersey issue; it’s a mom and dad issue; it’s an American issue.”
Booker and Gottheimer are also hoping for the president to follow through on his promise of a major infrastructure bill that would include help for municipalities to not only fix what’s moving above ground, but also what lies beneath, which is crumbling, outdated and, ultimately, dangerous.