The Star-Ledger

State Starts Lead-Paint Cleanup Fund

The Star-Ledger — Wednesday, January 21, 2004

By RUSSELL BEN-ALI
Star-Ledger Staff

The dream of restoring a century-old suburban home quickly became an ordeal for new homeowner Maureen Havlusch when a routine medical exam revealed that her 1-year-old daughter was lead-poisoned.

Then she learned that the cleanup of lead-based paint hazards caused by a careless house painter with a sanding machine would cost tens of thousands of dollars. But the family had just invested nearly all their savings into their home.

"What resources are there for parents?" Havlusch said she asked the local board of health in 1998. "The answer was, 'We are really sorry, we feel so bad for you, but there is no answer.' Today, they've given us an answer."

Yesterday Havlusch looked on as Gov. James E. McGreevey signed legislation that will create a statewide lead abatement fund worth millions.

The law establishes the Lead Hazard Control Assistance Fund, a pool of grants and low-interest loans set aside for cash-strapped landlords and homeowners who, like Havlusch, can't afford the cost of removing lead-based paint from aging buildings.

The legislation also creates a fund to relocate lead-poisoned children and establishes a registry of lead-safe housing in the state. Loans of up to $150,000 will be available to landlords based on financial need as well as outright grants for homeowners.

Funding will come in the form of $20 fees imposed for the inspection of each apartment for lead- based paint hazards and from tax revenue from paint sales.

Lead poses a serious health risk, particularly to children, and can cause permanent damage to the brain and other organs.

More than 5,000 New Jersey children tested positive for high levels of lead in their blood in 2002, but the actual number may be much higher because more than 100,000 children under 3 were not tested at all, according to a state report.

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