TRENTON – Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee Chair Joseph F. Vitale announced yesterday that the committee will hold a hearing on Monday to examine the lead crisis affecting thousands of children in communities across New Jersey.
“While the overall number of children in New Jersey registering with elevated blood lead levels has declined over the years, the lead crisis plaguing our state is far from over. Every child that is exposed to toxic levels of lead matters and needs our help, and it is our collective responsibility to protect our state’s youngest residents,” said Senator Vitale, D-Middlesex. “Holding this hearing will allow us to learn more about the troubling facts reported recently and will provide us with a better sense of direction in terms of ongoing and future efforts to end the lead crisis in New Jersey.”
In 2015, there were more than 3,000 new cases of children under six with elevated levels of toxic lead reported in New Jersey. Since 2000, about 225,000 children in the state have been afflicted by lead, according to advocates. A higher percentage of children were found with elevated blood lead levels in Irvington, East Orange, Trenton, Newark, Paterson, Plainfield, Jersey City, Elizabeth, Atlantic City, East Brunswick and Passaic, and in Salem and Cumberland counties. The proportion of children in these communities is higher than those affected by lead in Flint, Michigan.
Lead poisoning can cause irreversible brain and nervous system damage and a lifetime of behavioral and learning problems, all with no obvious symptoms and all of which are preventable. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, no safe blood lead level in children has been identified. The reference level, or “blood lead level of concern,” at which CDC recommends public health actions be initiated is 5 micrograms per deciliter (µg/dL). In New Jersey, blood levels of 10 µg/dL or greater may lead to case management by the local health department.
Senator Ronald Rice, D-Essex, has led the effort to address the lead crisis in New Jersey. He has sponsored legislation that 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. The City of Newark far exceeds every other large municipality statewide in the number of children younger than six years with elevated blood lead levels.
“The permanent damage caused by lead poisoning on the body and brain is preventable, yet thousands of children are registering elevated blood lead levels across New Jersey every year. The problem especially affects children in the poorest areas, members of racial-ethnic minority groups, and those living in older rental properties,” said Senator Rice. “This is an urgent matter that requires our immediate attention and action.”
Invited guests include members of the health care community, anti-poverty advocates, and other leaders in the effort to protect New Jersey’s children from the dangers of lead exposure.
The Committee will begin consideration of bills on its agenda on Monday, February 29, 2016, at 1:00 PM in Committee Room 1, 1st Floor, State House Annex, Trenton, New Jersey, followed by the hearing.