HEALTH

Advocates call for action to prevent lead poisoning

BY Briana Vannozzi, Correspondent |

Two years ago, more than 4,800 children in New Jersey were found to have elevated levels of lead in their blood. In his inaugural address, Gov. Murphy vowed to find a way, in his first 100 days in office, to eliminate childhood lead poisoning.

In a new report, advocates are offering an action plan to protect New Jersey’s children, especially those in low-income communities, from the dangerous hazards of lead poisoning and exposure. The tough part? It’ll take at least a decade, and a whole lot of money.

“We’re talking about a $1.1 billion problem to address lead hazards as estimated by the targeted housing,” said Ruth Ann Norton, president and CEO of Green & Healthy Homes Initiative.

Most of the lead found today comes from old housing stock or schools, in the lead paint on walls and windowsills. But it’s also showing up in drinking water from aging infrastructure and outdated fixtures. To fix it, the report says the state needs to:

– require renter and owner-occupied housing to be certified as lead safe and undergo mandatory inspections;
– create a New Jersey Lead Hazard Control Assistance Fund as a dedicated source of money for remediation;
– find funding mechanisms to replace lead service pipes and update water infrastructure;
-provide services to at-risk families;
– require state agencies to share data and increase early childhood screening;
– and support Medicaid investment in lead poisoning prevention and removal, among other items.

“The way that we deal with lead poisoning in children is to wait for them to be diagnosed as having been exposed to this neurotoxin, which then triggers remediation and treatment of both the kids and the homes. That is just simply a backwards of way of addressing a public health crisis,” said Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey’s President and CEO Staci Berger.

Children are flagged as “at-risk” if their blood lead levels are above 5 micrograms per deciliter, though the CDC says there is no safe level of lead in a child’s system. Gov. Murphy has promised to make this a priority and advocates are hopeful.