Asbury Park Press

Lawmakers Talk Lead, Consider A Tax On Water

Asbury Park Press — March 22, 2016

By Russ Zimmer

video opens in new window - Governor Christie listens to a question from NJCA's Maura Collinsgru
Ann Vardeman, program director of New Jersey Citizen Action, holds her 2-year-old daughter, Miriam, as she speaks about a bill that would set aside $10 million for the Lead Hazard Control Assistance Fund. Tanya Breen/Staff Photographer

Democrats in the New Jersey Assembly are considering creating a tax on water to fund a capital program to replace aging water infrastructure, a source of lead in drinking water.

"We're looking at potentially a funding source ... potentially even a surcharge on water that could be reinvested back into the infrastructure," Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto told reporters Tuesday at the Statehouse. "We have to look at that because New Jersey really does have an older housing stock, and it is a problem."

Prieto, flanked by New Jersey Senate President Stephen Sweeney, was speaking with the press about Gov. Chris Christie's reluctance to support a $10 million appropriation for a long-neglected lead protection program.

While the state budget fight is centered on lead paint in homes, the threat that lead ingestion represents to New Jerseyans, especially growing children, has grabbed headlines again after the Newark school district was forced to shut down its water fountains earlier this month.

That story brought home the anxiety felt nationwide from the lead-contamination crisis in the Flint, Michigan, water system.

An Asbury Park Press analysis of lead test results published last week showed that the presence of lead is pervasive in New Jersey tap water, mostly due to the age of the state's housing stock and infrastructure.

"Something has to be addressed. You have water systems in Newark that are over 100 years old," Sweeney said Tuesday. "Our urban areas are really troubled, and the suburban areas aren't keeping up either."

The Democratic leaders called the press conference to talk about A-1378, which would restore $10 million to the oft-ignored Lead Hazard Control Assistance Fund.

The bill was passed by both chambers of the Legislature earlier this month, by votes of 32-0 in the Senate and 56-17 in the Assembly.

Last year, a Press investigation revealed how state officials — of both political parties — had repeatedly shunned the lead hazard fund, which was designed to protect children from the developmental risks posed by lead exposure.

Deborah Bradley wiped tears from her eyes when she talked Tuesday about the changes she saw in her grandson when he and his mother moved into a Trenton home with lead-based paint inside.

Rushaine, 2, began having seizures, and his physical growth slowed. His communication skills seemed to regress during the seven months they lived in the apartment.

The child's blood-lead level was measured at 27 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood, or more than five times the level that prompts increased monitoring.

"Since we've been living in that apartment, he's had these problems," Deborah Bradley said. The boy and his mother now live in Burlington.

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