Community leaders and advocates joined parents with young children at a NJ State House press conference yesterday to urge Governor Christie to support lead poisoning prevention measures. Kicking off a campaign to fund lead poisoning prevention, the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey, Isles, Inc., New Jersey Citizen Action, the Anti-Poverty Network of New Jersey, and other organizations are asking Christie for $10 million in funding for the Lead Hazard Control Assistance Fund (LHCAF) in the next state budget.
“NJ consumers are paying to fund lead prevention, but those funds have been diverted to other budget items,” said Staci Berger, president and chief executive officer of the Network. “In 2016, no child should suffer from lead poisoning, it’s a completely preventable issue. Our budget should reflect that. We hope the governor will abide by the law and do right by our children by putting the money where it belongs. Our children should not be lead detectors.”
In 2004, the State of New Jersey introduced the Lead Hazard Control Assistance Fund to allocate resources to remove lead from older homes by offering deferred payment loans or grants to property owners. It has also financed home inspections, emergency relocations for affected families and efforts to educate the public about the risks of living in homes built before lead-based paints were banned in 1978. Since implementation of the law that created the fund, the state has steered more than $50 million into its general treasury instead of the LHCAF as required.
“This fund has been raided for over a decade to balance the budget which has had devastating consequences,” said Ann Vardeman, associate director of organizing and advocacy for New Jersey Citizen Action. “Thousands of young children are being found with elevated levels of highly toxic lead and not even a penny is put towards the fund. That’s why we’re launching the #LeadFreeKidsNJ campaign to ensure that Governor Christie includes proper funding for the lead prevention. Our goal is to send the governor 3,100 children’s handprints representing the children who will be needlessly poisoned by lead this year, to remind him that his budgetary decisions have real consequences to our children’s future.”
Advocates point to newly released data from Trenton-based Isles, Inc. that shows almost a dozen jurisdictions in NJ with higher incidences of children affected by lead, as compared to Flint, MI. In 2015, more than 3,000 new cases of children under six with elevated levels of toxic lead were reported. All told, about 225,000 young kids in New Jersey have been afflicted by lead since 2000.
“Water is not the only way children are lead poisoned,” said Elyse Pivnick, director of environmental health for Isles, Inc. “In NJ, the primary source of lead poisoning is chipping and peeling lead paint applied many years ago in housing that is not well maintained. Among children tested in 2014, there is a higher percentage of children with elevated blood lead levels (EBLL) in 11 cities and two counties in comparison with Flint to date. Over 3,000 NJ children were identified with EBLLs for the first time in 2015.”
At the event, Anti-Poverty Network Executive Director Serena Rice spoke as an advocate and mother to a six year old. “When I explained to my son about why we were coming here today – about how some kids get sick because of the dust in their homes, and when they leave the hospital they have to go right back to the home that made them sick – his response summed it up perfectly. He said ‘Mommy that’s just wrong,’” said Rice.
In addition to funding for lead prevention, advocates also urged support for a new measure sponsored by Senator Shirley Turner (D-Mercer/Hunterdon) that would permit municipalities to inspect one and two bedroom multifamily homes. At the present, only rentals three bedrooms or more are subject to inspection.
In the last session, a bill (S-1279) that would appropriate $10 million to the LHCAF was introduced by Senator Ronald L. Rice (D-Essex). However, the bill was ultimately pocket vetoed by Governor Christie.
“We’ve seen the national outrage resulting from lead contaminated water distributed in Flint, Michigan. We have our own crisis here in New Jersey that cannot be ignored,” said Senator Rice. “This is a public health issue that needs immediate attention. Lead poisoning can cause brain and nervous system damage, inability to pay attention, behavior and learning problems. The governor should have signed the legislation to fund lead hazard reduction efforts, yet he is preoccupied by a campaign that has become a priority over the needs of New Jersey residents. I will continue to fight for increased funding to protect our residents from lead exposure and keep working to bring attention to this issue until something is done.”