The Star-Ledger

Lawmakers, Advocates Want Money To 'Get The Lead Out' Of N.J. Homes

The Star-Ledger — March 23, 2016

By Samantha Marcus | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

TRENTON -- The changes Deborah Bradley and her daughter, Rashaniea Bradley described seeing in their grandson and son, Rushaine James, are stark.

A once-healthy boy, Rushaine began suffering from seizures, learning disabilities and developmental delays after being exposed to lead in their Trenton apartment, they said.

The ceilings, floors and walls in the apartment where they lived for less than a year were covered in lead paint, Deborah Bradley said.

"He's two now and he's not doing half the stuff he was doing when he was seven months," Rushaine James's grandmother, Deborah Bradley, said at a Statehouse news conference, where advocates and lawmakers on Tuesday vowed to fight for lead remediation funding.

A 50-cent fee tacked onto paint sales is supposed to generate funding for the Lead Hazard Control Assistance Fund, money that has been habitually diverted to the state budget. That $10 million a year would pay for lead abatement projects, relocate families whose children have high lead levels in their blood and create a web-based housing registry and public education.

Gov. Chris Christie in January pocket-vetoed a bill that would have earmarked $10 million for the fund, marking the third consecutive two-year legislative session in which the $10 million bill has failed to be signed into law.

"This has been an overdramatized issue," he said about the veto. "The fact is New Jersey has a fund that helps to pay for this over a period of time, and it has been funded."

Democratic state lawmakers are again pushing a bill to dedicate the $10 million in the budget for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins in July. Lawmakers have a moral and fiscal obligation to "get the lead out," said state Sen. Shirley Turner (D-Mercer).

At a news conference Tuesday in Long Branch, Christie addressed the legislation, saying he won't support supplemental spending, and the Legislature should write the funding into the budget if it's a priority.

"I have no objections to it. What I do object to is supplemental spending that bankrupts our state. And that's what this does," he said.

Elevated lead levels were detected in about 3,500 New Jersey children last year. Under the state law that mandates testing for children under the age of 6, elevated lead levels have been detected in 220,000 children since 2000. The vast majority of children didn't require medical treatment.

One in three homes in New Jersey was built before lead paint was outlawed in 1978.

"This is a public health epidemic," said Staci Berger, president and chief executive officer of the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey.

"I don't think you can overdramatize over 3,000 children being poisoned last year in their homes and in their schools," said Ann Vardeman of New Jersey Citizen Action.

Elevated levels of lead detected in 30 Newark schools during regular testing sparked recent controversy, but the bigger issue is lead paint in homes, said state Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester), who was joined by state Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-Hudson).

"The water got everyone's attention. The paint has always been an issue," he said. "To deny that we have this problem is wrong. ... I have a daughter born with a disability. And when she was born, I knew she had Down syndrome. These are children that are born healthy, healthy, and are being poisoned. And there's no way to accept or allow this to continue. Not in a state as wealthy as New Jersey."

Eleven cities and two counties in New Jersey, including Newark, had a higher percentage of children with elevated lead levels than Flint, Mich., in 2015, according to an analysis of New Jersey Department of Health statistics by Isles, Inc., a Trenton-based community development organization.

Communities that recorded the highest lead levels include Irvington, East Orange, Trenton, Newark, Paterson, Plainfield, Jersey City, Elizabeth, Atlantic City, New Brunswick and Passaic, along with Salem and Cumberland counties.

NJ Advance Media staff writer Susan K. Livio contributed to this report.

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