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Citing Lead Crisis, Senator Rice Introduces Legislation to Provide $10M to Lead Hazard Control Fund

Senator Ronald L. Rice, D-Essex, testifies during the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee hearing regarding the Opportunity Scholarship Act.

TRENTON – Senator Ronald L. Rice has introduced legislation to provide $10 million in funding in the current year’s budget to address lead hazards in New Jersey. The re-introduction of the legislation, pocket vetoed last session, follows a report issued earlier this week showing that 11 cities and two counties in New Jersey have a higher proportion of children affected by lead than in Flint, Michigan.

“We’ve seen the national outrage resulting from lead contaminated water distributed in Flint. This public health crisis is disturbing on a number of levels, but in large part because of the damage that lead can do to the body and the lasting effects it can have on children,” said Senator Rice (D-Essex). “We have our own crisis here in New Jersey with thousands of children each year registering elevated lead levels in their blood. Yet, the governor refused to sign a bill that would help. Given the latest analysis of the severe problem in New Jersey, there should be no question that we need to do everything in our power to address it.”

The data released by the Trenton-based organization Isles, Inc. showed that despite similar testing rates, a higher percentage of children were found with elevated blood lead levels in 11 cities and two counties compared to Flint. The counties are Salem and Cumberland and the cities as follows: Irvington, E. Orange, Trenton, Newark, Paterson, Plainfield, Jersey City, Elizabeth, Atlantic City, East Brunswick and Passaic. The New Jersey data is from 2014.

In addition, in 2015, there were more than 3,000 new cases of children under age six with elevated levels of toxic lead reported in New Jersey. Since 2000, about 225,000 kids in New Jersey have been afflicted by lead, the advocates said.

“It shouldn’t make a difference if kids are being affected by lead in water or in the paint in their homes. The impact of lead on the body and brain can be extremely detrimental, and there should be an urgency to act in both circumstances. I am disappointed the governor pocket vetoed the bill last session. I really would like to think that he was so involved with his presidential campaign that he didn’t have any serious discussions on the bill or the lead paint problem in our state. That is the only logical reason I can think of for his inaction,” said Senator Rice. “I am reintroducing this bill with the hope that the governor will take a hard look at the problem plaguing our state and recognize that funding lead abatement and the emergency relocation of affected children, among other programs, through this bill is part of the solution.”

No safe blood lead level in children has been identified, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and because lead exposure often occurs with no obvious symptoms, it frequently goes unrecognized. Lead poisoning can cause damage to the brain and nervous system, slowed growth and development, learning and behavior problems and hearing and speech problems, according to the CDC. It can cause a lower IQ, decreased ability to pay attention and underperformance at school.

The bill would provide $10 million in funding in the current FY16 budget to the Lead Hazard Control Assistance Fund, which provides funding to address lead-based paint in New Jersey in a comprehensive and focused manner.  Programs include lead-based paint hazard control through lead abatement or interim controls; emergency relocation of households which include a child with an elevated blood lead level; extensive statewide, regional and community based education and outreach; training courses in lead disciplines such as lead-safe building maintenance practices; identification of lead-safe housing via a web-based Lead Safe Housing Registry available to the public; increases in identification of lead-based paint hazards and lead dust hazards via the distribution of free dust-wipe kits and purchasing X-ray fluorescence analyzers for use by local health departments.

The bill was introduced Thursday.