Officials Rally At Trenton School To Urge Testing For Lead Poisoning

NJ.com — October 20, 2016

By Greg Wright | For NJ.com

TRENTON — Local political leaders, educators, and representatives from nonprofit organizations gathered at a city school Wednesday to express support for legislation that calls for mandatory testing for lead in school drinking water.

The legislation, (A-3539/S-2082) sponsored by Assemblywoman Liz Muoio and Sen. Shirley Turner (Mercer) would also make disclosing the results mandatory.

The city's schools have recently come under scrutiny for 20 buildings having high lead levels.

"Unfortunately the results from last week, while very disturbing, are not surprising," Muoio said in the courtyard of Grace A. Dunn Middle School in Trenton. "We have aging infrastructure throughout our state and this has effects."

"Throughout the state we have school districts where lead poisoning levels in the blood are higher than those experienced in Flint," Muoio said. "There's no safe level of level of lead in the blood, its a cumulative effect — the younger (you are) the more vulnerable you are."

Elyse Pivnick, a lead specialist at Isles — a Trenton-based nonprofit — championed the legislation explaining that the current methods of testing for lead in water ends when the water leaves the treatment plant.

"No one ever thought to check what happens between the treatment plant and school," Pivnick said.

Turner (D-Mercer) explained that exposure to lead can lead to behavior problems, shortened attention spans and developmental disabilities.

"A lead poisoned child is seven times more likely to drop out of school," Ann Vardeman of New Jersey Citizen Action said. "A lead poisoned child is six times more likely to be involved in the criminal justice system."

"We should be deeply ashamed that we are allowing our children to be exposed to a toxin in our schools that will make them more likely to drop out of school," Vardeman said.

Those on hand applauded the testing and public notification of last week's lead test results, but cautioned that testing is only the first step, as there is no cure for lead exposure — only prevention.

The prime source of lead exposure in the state is lead paint particles in homes and other buildings, giving Trenton kids a "double dose," said Turner.

Turner sponsored a state bill that was approved under the Corzine administration requiring lead testing in some rental homes, and though the legislation was passed it has never been enforced due to a lack of path to enforcement.

The state's Lead Hazard Control Assistance Fund (LHCAF) was set up to help in the removal of lead-based paint from older homes by offering deferred-payment loans or grants collected through a tax on paint, but the fund has been pilfered regularly to balance the state budget.

In April, Gov. Christie added $10 million to lead abatement activities after vetoing bills three years in row that would have done the same thing.

Trenton Councilman Duncan Harrison announced that the City Council was looking at efforts to enact an ordinance that would accomplish what Turner's bill had set out to do, but on a municipal rather than state level.

When asked if a bill to prevent the scraping of fund from the LHCAF would be introduced, Turner said, "We can do that once we have a new governor," referring to Gov. Christie's penchant for vetoing lead initiatives.

Muoio's bill is currently before the Assembly Appropriations Committee, where she says they will try to figure out the cost of refitting schools with lead free pipes and equipment. Turner's bill is before the Senate Education Committee.

Whatever the cost, those in attendance agreed, the investment in the health of our children is an investment in our future and that the cost of doing nothing is much higher.

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