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Lead by Example: Equitably Addressing the Toxic Lead Issues in Your Town

July 7th, 2022 by

Lead-contaminated paint, water, and soil disproportionately affect young children, causing serious medical and behavioral issues into adulthood, and low-income communities and/or communities of color are most at risk, due to systemic inequities. However, these issues can be prevented by targeting the sources of lead and remediating them.

Lead impacts our entire state, and we have a unique opportunity to address it. What is lead and where is it negatively impacting community health? Once identified, what should cities and municipalities be required to do and when? What are some success stories and some of the obstacles that cities and towns have faced when conducting remediation? These questions were addressed in a session titled “Lead by Example: Equitably Addressing the Toxic Lead Issues in Your Town at the 2022 NJ Planning and Redevelopment Conference, co-hosted by New Jersey Future and the New Jersey Chapter of the American Planning Association.

Moderated by Rashan Prailow, founder of Think Group LLC, & Co-Chair of Lead-Free NJ, the panel included Kareem Adeem, director of Newark Department of Water & Sewer Utilities’; Michael Venezia, mayor of Bloomfield Township; Ruth Ann Norton, president & CEO of the Green & Healthy Homes Initiative (GHHI); and Shereyl Snider, community organizer with Urban Promise Trenton and the East Trenton Collaborative.

Kareen Adeem began the session by sharing Newark’s journey, and success, in completing their lead service line (LSL) replacement program which began in 2019 and removed over 23,000 LSL’s, impacting 315,000 residents in 31,000 households. Adeem touted the project as one that invested Newark’s physical and human infrastructure by creating jobs and opportunities within the community and improving public health.

Ruth Ann Norton of GHHI spoke of the need to, advance lead in every program we can to ensure we end its toxic legacy and the stranglehold it has had on health, economic, and social outcomes for far too many communities throughout the state and nation. Norton went on to say that New Jersey has set a guidepost by aligning our normal lead hazard control, lead abatement activities, testing in water, soil, and paint, and the ability to deliver a lead-free future for New Jerseyans. She stated that equity must be measured along the following yardsticks: children’s ability to attend school healthy and ready to learn, housing stability in a given area or neighborhood,, health care funding t for managed care for hospitals and Medicare, unemployment and a strong jobs framework to maintain local infrastructure, and denormalizing the , expectation that children in low-income housing will be poisoned by lead because it typically is older, distressed housing.

Lead has a significant adverse impact on children’s brain development and can impact learning, behavior, and health of both children and adults affecting how you earn, learn and compete for a lifetime. Risk assessment, testing, and remediation are critical to an area’s success and addressing it is something that mayors and officials can do to make a difference. Mayor Venezia spoke to how Bloomfield Township works with landlords and renters to inspect rentals to develop a plan to remediate lead paint issues, which has had great success. Additionally, when lead was found in Bloomfield Township’s water, the Township developed and implemented plans to address the LSLs, at no cost to residents, through various funding sources.

In Trenton, Shereyl Snider is helping residents advocate for continuation of their LSL program which unfortunately stalled. Snider has been holding listening sessions for residents and working closely with Trenton’s mayor and other advocates to get the word out on the harmful effects of lead to residents through door-knocking, handing out materials, and speaking to residents one-on-one. The East Trenton Collaborative’s work also includes engaging legislators, as well as city and county officials, by pushing for education, testing, and lead remediation with no customer cost share.

It is important that county, city, and town officials understand state mandates and funding opportunities, and work to identify and remediate lead-related issues. Our panelists agreed that accountability, transparency, and communication are the true keys to success. Investing in human capital and including residents in the process of bettering their community will ultimately help ensure healthy, productive, and engaged communities for our future.

“Addressing lead is a moral compass issue for this country around many ill conceived and unjust policies of the past, which gives us a platform to do the right things and do them better.” -Ruth Ann Norton, President & CEO, GHHI

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