By Brenda Flanagan
We’re at an old Trenton row home with housing rehab manager Prince Moore, who’s swabbing the window frame to test for lead paint.
“You can see how red that turns immediately upon touching. That indicates this is full of lead, this whole window frame,” he said. “Every time you open and close this window, lead dust is going to blow into the home and throughout the home.”
It costs about $8,000 to rehab a home — remove and encapsulate toxic areas.
“We’ve done 170 homes and I’d say 50 to 60 percent have lead in them,” he said.
“In New Jersey the source of lead is old leaded house paint and the numbers are equal to or worse than what we’re seeing in Flint,” said Elyse Pivnick.
Safe housing advocate Pivnick says while the controversy over lead-tainted water in Flint, Michigan sparks controversy and demands attention, kids in 11 New Jersey cities are at similar risk.
“The percentage of children that were testing with high levels of lead is equal to or higher than what is being reported in Flint. We’re in no competition here, but I want people to have the same sense of alarm and concern that they’re having for the children of Flint for the children of New Jersey,” she said.
“One would argue that the health and well being of a whole population of children is at stake and if anything was a priority, this would be,” said Dr. Kemi Ally.
Dr. Ally works at a Trenton health clinic where she says cases of lead poisoning in kids predict later problems, even at relatively low blood lead levels.
“Inability to concentrate, to focus, behavior problems, hyperactivity. Children who are then labeled become frustrated and act out,” Dr. Ally said.
New Jersey lawmakers re-introduced a bill the governor vetoed that’d restore $10 million to a state program for lead inspections and poison prevention. But the state Health Department argues it fields a strong education and testing program and more than 200,000 kids were tested for lead in the last fiscal year and the number that test positive has declined steadily. It also fields in-home visitation to at-risk families.
“Education is one thing that is not correcting the house that is poisoning the child,” Pivnick said.
Sen. Shirley Turner also claims the administration’s not enforcing a law requiring the state inspect one- and two-family rentals for lead-based paint. But the Department of Community Affairs says registering those units “…is a major undertaking since there is no readily available way to identify which one- and two-family properties are rentals and which were built before 1978 where there would be a potential lead poisoning risk.”
Advocates say this kind of inspection needs to happen far more often in New Jersey cities, and when the test comes back positive they need to get the lead out.