A plan to end lead poisoning in NJ 10 years — but no price tag
Saying their goal is to end childhood lead poisoning in New Jersey in 10 years, a half-dozen groups Wednesday made public an action plan for state officials – from new home inspection rules to goals for replacing water lines to stricter safety limits on lead in soil.
Ruth Ann Norton, president and chief executive officer of the Green & Healthy Homes Initiative, said the same strategies that cut lead poisoning by 99 percent in Maryland can help in New Jersey.
“We intend to eliminate lead poisoning in the next decade and to protect a generation of New Jersey’s children from the toxic legacy of lead,” Norton said.
The 46-page plan recommends 76 specific actions, though not an estimated cost.
Norton said lead hazards in targeted housing are a $1.1 billion problem. Staci Berger, president and chief executive officer of the Housing and Community Development Network, said paint remediation should be $30 million a year– but that spending it now means less for things like special education later.
“We’re spending that money one way or the other,” Berger said. “It’s better to spend it and make sure people are not poisoned by something that is totally preventable.”
Peter Chen, a staff attorney at Advocates for Children of New Jersey, said better access to information is important. He also said the state should share information it now keeps to itself, such as sophisticated mapping and data tools on high-risk neighborhoods and clusters.
“It’s shocking how the information that we assume has been distributed year after year has not necessarily gotten through to neighborhoods and families,” Chen said.
Norton said one key is to require apartments to be inspected for lead before they can be rented. The plan calls for all rental and owner-occupied housing built before 1978 to pass a lead dust wipe inspection, not just a visual inspection, before occupancy can turn over.
“What we know about success around the country is pre-rental inspections around lead work and really move the needle,” Norton said.
Lead remediation rated a mention in Gov. Phil Murphy’s inaugural speech and a section in a transition report, so advocates are hopeful it will be a focus going forward. Elyse Pivnick, director of environmental health for Isles, said she likes the recommendation by a transition committees that Murphy appoint an environmental justice coordinator.
“Which will help make all of these things happen. Because one of the things we know about lead, it’s a very fragmented challenge to address,” Pivnick said.
Berger called on Murphy to revise the rules for a state lead-remediation program so ensure that undocumented immigrants can get help. She said applicants currently are asked for proof of the immigration status of every resident in a home, which she said isn’t necessary under federal law.
“We have heard anecdotal information that folks are being moved out of their home by their landlord so that people could be moved in and then the house can be rehabilitated,” Berger said. “We’ve also heard that others are turned away from the program.”