TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senator Ronald L. Rice to provide $10 million in funding in the current year’s budget to address lead hazards in New Jersey was approved today by the Senate Community and Urban Affairs Committee. The senator reintroduced the legislation, which was pocket vetoed last session, after the release of a report finding that 11 cities and two counties in New Jersey have a higher proportion of children affected by lead than in Flint, Michigan.
“The lead crisis in Flint has dominated the headlines and caused national outrage. This public health emergency 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). “New Jersey is facing its own crisis with thousands of children each year registering elevated lead levels in their blood. The governor’s recent remarks that this issue is ‘over-dramatized’ is insulting to the residents and families who are suffering with this problem. Even if lead poisoning cases have been reduced over time, does that mean we should not address those that still remain? The health impacts caused by lead are irreversible. We have a responsibility to take immediate action for the safety of our residents.”
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.
“The impact of lead on the body and brain can be extremely detrimental, and there should be an urgency to prevent children from lead poisoning. I am disappointed the governor pocket vetoed the bill last session, and would like to think that it was because the presidential race did not allow him to give this issue the attention required,” said Senator Rice. “We are advancing this bill with the hope that this time 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, 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 (S-996) 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 committee approved the bill by a vote of 5-0. It next goes to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee for consideration.