HEALTH

Sen. Menendez Pushes for Stricter Lead Standards

By Brenda Flanagan
Correspondent

“It’s really outrageous that our children and grandchildren are still being used as human lead detectors,” said Phyllis Salowe-Kaye, Executive Director for New Jersey Citizen Action.

Advocates gathered in a Jersey City public housing courtyard to call for reforms in federal lead testing. They said kids struggle through an urban jungle gym of mixed standards. Whether from lead paint in their homes or lead pipes in their water supply, just how much lead poisoning must show up in a kid’s blood to trigger official remediation? Too much, said Sen. Bob Menendez.

“Under current HUD regulations, intervention to reduce lead hazards in a home is not required until the amount of lead in a child’s blood is four times as high as the CDC standard,” he said.

“We are finally saying federal lead regulations must be in accordance with the best science on lead poisoning that is available,” said Elyse Pivnick, Senior Advisor at Isles Inc.

Menendez introduced a bill to align HUD standards with the CDC, which currently sets maximum acceptable blood lead levels at five micrograms per deciliter. The HUD standard is 20. Here in New Jersey, the Department of Health recommends 10 — that’s twice as high as the CDC’s. Kids in New Jersey remain at risk, advocates said.

“Three thousand one hundred children were diagnosed with elevated lead levels last year. That is an epidemic,” said Staci Berger, President and CEO of the Housing and Community Development Network of NJ.

A state Health Department spokeswoman noted, “…the Department is working on amendments to childhood lead poisoning rules, and reviewing CDC recommendations is part of that process.”

Meanwhile, state lawmakers are now considering a bill that would automatically set the state blood lead level to CDC standards. They also re-introduced a $10 million special funding bill for lead Remediation. Gov. Chris Christie recently pocket vetoed the same extra appropriation last year.

“Yeah, because it was supplemental spending, and I don’t do supplemental spending, and I’ve never done supplemental spending in six years as governor. If they think it’s important, they should put it in the budget,” Christie said.

The Menendez bill would authorize funding to remediate federal housing, and would hold landlords accountable.

“So, that’s where the legislation would be very important, because now you can tell that landlord if you want that Section 8 subsidy, you’re going to have to live up to the standard,” Menendez said.

Jersey City’s already taken an aggressive approach to lead testing.

“They had the guy from housing, he came down and tested every apartment, and where there was lead, he removed it,” said Jersey City resident Tammy Jones.

The Menendez bill doesn’t specify how much money would be appropriated to help remediate lead levels. In this tight budget year, that could prove to be political poison.