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New Data From the New Jersey Department of Health Show Work Is Needed to Protect Children From Lead Exposure

Trenton, March 31, 2021—The coronavirus pandemic has kept New Jersey’s children at home since March 2020, creating more time for potential contact with the neurotoxin lead. New Jersey’s children are being tested for lead exposure at a lower rate than in 2019, but the percentage of children with elevated blood lead levels has increased by 29% since that year, according to data released by the New Jersey Department of Health.

Advocates from around the state want to see action taken to create a lead-free environment for New Jersey’s children and families. Efforts are underway in the New Jersey Legislature to replace lead service lines and require disclosure of lead paint in certain housing units, but more work is needed for these measures to be effective before they become law, and additional legislation and regulations are necessary for a truly comprehensive solution to ensure that children are lead-free.

“Home is where we should feel safe, but the data from the New Jersey Department of Health highlights a serious health threat in many homes throughout the state,” said New Jersey Future Managing Director of Policy and Water Chris Sturm. “Lead poisoning puts us all at risk, but especially our children. Staying safe at home means having drinking water and paint that are free from lead. New Jersey must advance legislation and regulations to get us to a lead-free environment while ensuring residents are not financially burdened by the solutions.”

“These data are deeply concerning, particularly when considering the irreversible neurological and physiological effects that lead exposure can have on children,” said Peter Chen, policy counsel at Advocates for Children of New Jersey. “The uptick in the percentage of children testing at elevated levels of lead, as well as the increase in hospitalizations, shows a possible reversal of a decades-long decline in lead exposure. Although testing more children for lead is imperative, the state need not wait for more children to be exposed before taking action to expand investments in healthy housing, infrastructure and lead remediation and removal.”

“This data seems to confirm that the pandemic is exacerbating NJ’s childhood lead poisoning epidemic, which continues to disproportionately impact lower income children and children of color,” said Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey President and CEO Staci Berger. “As a result of COVID-19, children are spending more time indoors at home, where lead paint remains a toxic threat. New Jersey needs to create additional inspection tools and make deeper investments to address childhood lead paint poisoning so that every home is safe for every child.”

“We commend the New Jersey Department of Health for sharing this information and forging the partnership with NJ pediatricians to vigorously reach out to families who have missed child wellness visits and associated lead tests,” said Isles, Inc. Senior Director of Environmental Health Elyse Pivnick. “This data underscores the need to assess and correct for lead hazards in New Jersey homes using all tools. Families need information about DCA programs that offer free home assessment and lead hazard repair across the state, and there is an urgent need for every jurisdiction to step up their housing code enforcement. There is no housing code that sanctions lead hazards in a home.”

“Lead exposure is particularly prevalent in Newark due to the age of its housing stock, but this problem plagues communities across the state and requires coordination among all levels of government as well as the communities themselves to fully address,” said Homes for All Newark Co-founder Victor Monterrosa. “COVID-19 succeeded in discouraging New Jersey parents, including many tenants, from testing their children for lead, hindering the ability to identify and prevent exposure by families and tenant associations. Our communities need increased access to lead testing in order to reduce the increase in lead levels and lead-related hospitalizations we’re seeing as a result of the pandemic. By preventing, identifying, and abating the presence of lead in paint, dust, and drinking water we can protect the lead abatement work of the past 20 years and continue to control the impacts of the most common environmental toxin for children.”

© New Jersey Future, 16 W. Lafayette St. • Trenton, NJ 08608 • Phone: 609-393-0008 • Fax: 609-360-8478

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