Legislation aims at childhood lead poisoning

Lawmakers approved legislation to prevent childhood lead poisoning in New Jersey.

This legislation requires a proactive lead inspection process for rental properties built before 1978, closing a loophole that allowed all single family/two family rental units to go uninspected.

Before now, thousands of children were poisoned each year before lead was detected in a home – using kids as lead detectors. The new law will ensure that families know their home is lead-safe before they move in.

The floor vote passed unanimously 40-0 in the Senate and 70-3 in the Assembly, and is expected to be signed by the governor.

Isles is a nonprofit organization that worked in support the bills, S1147 and A1372, along with the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey, Green and Healthy Homes Initiative, Advocates for Children of NJ, New Jersey Future, Lead Free New Jersey, Environment NJ, Lead Safe Cleveland, and the Coalition to Prevent Lead Poisoning (Rochester, NY).”

“We know this is one of the most impactful ways to prevent childhood lead poisoning over the long term,” said Isles’ CEO Sean Jackson. “Today, the New Jersey legislature stops the usage of children as the canary in the coal mine.”

Jackson said Isles has been at the forefront of advocating for common sense policies to keep kids safe from lead and other environmental health hazards for decades.

“The vast majority of the nearly 4,000 new childhood lead poisoning cases each year in New Jersey are caused by lead-based paint that deteriorates and turns to dust in the home. Most families do not discover they have a lead paint poisoning problem until their child tests positive for an elevated blood lead level. COVID and the related stay-at-home orders exacerbated this problem,” says Ben Haygood, Isles’ Environmental Health Policy Director. “This legislation creates a ‘primary prevention’ system — identifying and addressing lead hazards in homes before children get poisoned.”

In states and cities where similar policies have been implemented, childhood lead poisoning from lead-based paint has plummeted.

In Rochester, for example, after requiring a lead safe certificate for all rental housing, lead poisoning of children dropped nearly 90% over 10 years. Maryland has reduced lead poisoning in Baltimore by 99%; Rhode Island and Massachusetts have had similar outcomes.

No Safe Lead Levels

Lead is a dangerous neurotoxin that affects a child’s learning, memory, and even behavior, as it damages the part of the brain that controls impulse.

“There is no such thing as a ‘safe’ level of lead,” says Elyse Pivnick, Isles’ Senior Director of Environmental Health. “Children with even low levels of lead are six times more likely to enter the juvenile justice system, thirty percent more likely to fail 3rd grade reading and math, and seven times more likely to drop out of school. Tragically, in 2015, 13 municipalities in New Jersey had a higher percentage of children with elevated blood lead levels than Flint, MI.”

The costs and impacts of allowing the persistence of lead in paint and water affects all New Jerseyans.

The costs associated with lead poisoning are immense — more than $62 million annually for NJ taxpayers.

Lead poisoning drives higher special education costs, higher levels of juvenile crime and incarceration, increased high school dropouts, higher rates of unemployment, and a variety of health problems that lead to earlier retirement, enrollment in Medicaid, and even death.

New studies have shown the long-term effects of lead exposure on heart and kidney disease and neurological issues for seniors, as well.

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