With the eyes of the nation focused on the brain damage and other problems associated with lead-contaminated water in Flint Michigan, several community advocacy organizations in New Jersey banded together this week to draw attention to New Jersey’s lead problem, asking for a renewed focus on solving it.
In New Jersey, children 6 years of age and younger have continued to ingest lead from paint in windows, doors and other woodwork found in older homes, particularly in older, poorer cities, said Elyse Pivnick, director of environmental health for Isles, Inc., a community development organization based in Trenton.
New Jersey Department of Health statistics from 2014, the last year for which data is available, show that the cites of Irvington, East Orange, Trenton, Newark, Paterson, Plainfield, Jersey City, Elizabeth, Atlantic City, New Brunswick and Passaic, along with the counties of Salem and Cumberland, had a higher percentage of children with elevated lead levels than in Flint.
Just two weeks ago, Governor Christie pocket-vetoed a $10 million bill that set aside money for the lead control assistance fund, the third consecutive legislative session in which the bill failed to be signed into law. The money was accrued based on a fee on paint sales, but, according to the bill’s supporters, has been diverted to support the state budget since 2004.
Also, Pivnick pointed out, in 2015, there were more than 3,000 new cases of children under the age of 6 in New Jersey with elevated levels of lead in their blood. Overall, advocates said, about 225,000 young children in the state have been afflicted by lead since 2000.
In addition to more state funding, Pivnick and the other advocates called for more involvement by local communities and leaders in focusing on the lead problem, including enforcing housing codes more diligently and expanding inspections to rental units with fewer than three bedrooms.
Lead poisoning leads to brain damage and the associated memory loss and related learning disabilities. With the problem even more widespread in New Jersey than it is in Flint, Pivnick said, “Why aren’t the same alarms going off here?”
Responding for the state, Donna Leusner, a spokesperson for the Department of Health, did not refute the statistics circulated by the advocacy groups, but pointed out that they are based on a “lower standard” for lead levels in blood than is currently in stare regulations.
“The facts are that in New Jersey, childhood lead poisoning is a public health success story,” she said. She pointed out that New Jersey is one of just 17 states that have universal testing for children ages 1 and 2, and added the the health department “has no idea if data regarding Flint that advocates are citing is accurate or is being fully explained, particularly in comparison to other regions in the nation.”