Growing concerns over child lead poisoning in New Jersey

Aired February 2, 2016

By Nora Muchanic

New Jersey children are getting sick from lead paint in old homes, and community groups say funding to fix the problem is running dry.

"Kids are going to emergency rooms and then they're sent back to places that are going to make them sick again," said Stacie Berger of the Housing and Community Development Network. "So, we're perpetuating a cycle."

A coalition of housing and community development groups is pushing hard to get Governor Chris Christie to fund the $10 million that's supposed to be in the state budget each year to help relocate and clean up homes like this contaminated with lead.

Cities like Trenton, Camden and Atlantic City have a lot of old housing stock filled with lead paint.

It chips from the ceiling walls and window frames continuing to poison the children to live there.

"We know that there's 11 cities and 2 counties here in New Jersey that have a higher rate of elevated blood lead levels in 2014 then Flint had in 2015," said Elyse Pivnick, the Isles, Inc. Environmental Health director.

That list includes Trenton and Atlantic City, as well as Salem and Cumberland counties.

In 2015, 3,100 new cases of lead poisoning in kids was reported in New Jersey, which can lead to permanent brain damage and other issues.

"A couple of milligrams of lead paint is enough to put a child at the old danger level of 20 units. Now the level of concern is five units of lead," said lead poisoning specialist Joe Ponessa.

Since the fund to help lead poisoning cleanups was enacted into law in 2004, critics say the state has diverted more than $50 million of it into the general fund to help balance the budget, a move they call unconscionable.

"By not funding these programs, Governor Christie is allowing children to be poisoned by lead," said Ann Varteman of NJ Citizien Action.

State health and community affairs officials say lead poisoning cases have dropped dramatically over the last 20 years, and it remains an important public health issue in New Jersey.

The governor's office told Action News it cannot say if money for the lead abatement fund will be in the upcoming budget.

The group plans to send the governor 3,100 handprints representing the number of kids they say were needlessly poisoned by lead last year.