Expansion Of Lead Inspections Unfunded, Unstaffed

The Record ( — Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Record

In January 2008, then-Gov. Jon Corzine, in what was described as "victory" for children, signed a law expanding state lead inspections to one- and two-family rentals. As long as these rentals were not owner-occupied, they could under the law expect the same inspections afforded other rentals at least once every five years.

The measure, Senate bill S-2622, is still being heralded as a "victory" on the Web site of New Jersey Citizen Action (NJCA), which lobbies for greater lead safeguards for children, but NJCA laments that the measure has gone unfunded and unstaffed.

This financial hit for lead inspections comes at a time when advocacy groups, such as the New Jersey Office of the Child Advocate, are trying to create a greater awareness of the dangers of lead — even in very small amounts -- and the impact of lead on children in both cities and suburbs.

Edwin Carman, spokesman for the state Department of Community Affairs (DCA), acknowledges that the aim of the law was to expand DCA inspections by amending the former Hotel and Multiple Dwellings Code so that it no longer leaves a great number of residents exposed to lead.

The problem, Carman said, is financial.

"Due to the current economic climate and the need to cut the state budget, funding has not been available to implement training or hire additional staff. Once we are able to acquire the funding, staffing and training needed, we will move forward with these inspections as quickly as possible," Carman said.

"It's an unfortunate situation," said NJCA Executive Director Phyllis Salowe-Kaye.

"We worked very hard to get this, but the truth of the matter is it has not been funded yet. We're hoping the new governor will understand the importance of it."

Sean Kinney, lead training coordinator for NJCA, said, "The biggest problem with not having inspections of one- and two-family homes is that there are hundreds upon hundreds of homes where you have renters not covered [by an inspection]."

While NJCA is putting its hopes with a new governor, the New Jersey Office of the Child Advocate is criticizing the DCA inspection techniques for not being a thorough exploration of lead contents.

Jean Reilly, deputy director of the New Jersey Public Advocate's office, said that DCA does visual inspections for chipping, peeling and other signs of deterioration in homes built before 1978, when lead paint was in use.

"Lead is microscopic, so a visual inspection is not so good," she said. "We are far from heartbroken [about the delay for S2622]. It's virtually useless and gives a false sense of security."

Defending DCA's inspections, Carman said, "New Jersey, as a whole, has older housing stock. The removal of all lead-based paint from all of New Jersey's multiple dwellings would be fabulously expensive and is unnecessary. The question is not whether the paint contains lead or not. The question is whether the paint is being maintained in a safe condition."

While a visual inspection could reveal immediate danger, Reilly said it takes an X-ray fluorescent gun to target deeper layers of paint to reveal any hidden lead.

"The stereotype out there is that there are giant deteriorating walls with paint on them and kids are munching on them," she said. In reality, lead dust created by friction around window sills is a culprit that many overlook, but is just as potent. They also overlook lead danger that could be present in soil around an apartment building, and the impact of renovations to a pre-1978 home, which could stir up lead dust. (Under new federal regulations, effective in April, contractors would have to be trained in safe lead practices before tackling such jobs.)

Since much is up in the air about lead safety and inspections, parents are advised to advocate for their children's safety.

"Lead is almost like asbestos. It's not safe in any level," said Gene Burch of RTK Environmental Group of Stamford, Conn., which will be teaching contractors and property owners to deal with lead under the new regulations. "Even a small amount can harm a child and create a risk for pregnant women, too."

But lead inside a wall is not an issue "until you do renovations where you disturb the paint," he said.

According to a recent report from the Public Advocate's Office, children in New Jersey have an average of nearly 3 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood, compared with an average level of 2 micrograms nationwide.

To turn this around for New Jersey, the Public Advocate recommends the adoption of municipal ordinances calling for a lead inspection whenever a home or apartment changes hands and the creation of more Model Lead-Safe Cities like Hackensack, Paterson, and Englewood.

How to protect children

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

Top Top | NJCA in the News | NJCA Homepage