Philadelphia Inquirer

Lead Inspections, Cleanup Money OKd

The Philadelphia Inquirer — Wednesday, January 21, 2004

By Steve Strunsky
Associated Press

TRENTON — In a move that experts say could help reduce mental retardation among children, particularly those living in urban areas, a fund was created yesterday to help landlords and residents pay for removal of lead. As part of the measure, landlords will be required to inspect for lead in certain dwellings.

The bipartisan legislation will appropriate $10 million a year, including money from the general fund and through a fee of $20 per apartment for mandatory lead inspections in buildings with three or more apartments. The bill was sponsored by State Sen. Ronald L. Rice, a Newark Democrat, with backing from New Jersey Citizen Action, a nonprofit group.

The lead inspections will be added to the list of mandatory checks in such buildings every five years, which are overseen by the state Department of Community Affairs.

Money from the fund to hire licensed lead-removal firms will be available to landlords or owner-occupants of buildings with up to four dwelling units, in the form of loans or grants, depending on the property owner's ability to pay, Rice said.

Jean Gorman, executive director of the New Jersey Apartment Association, which represents about 600 building owners and 142,000 apartments, said that most of her group's members own too many units to be eligible for the loans or grants, even though they will have to pay the inspection fees. Even so, Gorman's group did not oppose the new legislation because, she said, lead poisoning is "a societal problem" that must be addressed.

Lead poisoning can cause anemia, kidney disease, high blood pressure, and mental retardation and is caused by inhalation of lead-paint dust or ingestion of paint chips.

Surrounded by toddlers from a local day-care center, Gov. McGreevey signed the bill at a Newark Department of Health and Senior Services office.

McGreevey, who has a young daughter, learned firsthand the importance of testing when lead was found in the governor's mansion, Drumthwacket, before his family moved in. McGreevey announced a plan by the state Department of Health to supply new mothers with lead-testing equipment before they leave the hospital.

Statewide, 5,230 children were found to have elevated levels of lead in their blood, including 1,879 in Essex County, which had the highest concentration of cases.

Two dozen New Jersey municipalities and counties are co-plaintiffs in a lawsuit seeking to force paint companies to pay lead-paint cleanup costs. The suit is pending in the state Appellate Division of Superior Court.

The new law provides what officials said is a proactive way of addressing lead poisoning. In the past, officials said, lead inspections were not required, and removal of lead paint was typically undertaken only after elevated levels of lead were found in the blood of a child.

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