Graded C-minus on lead remediation, New Jersey urged to commit more to effort

 New Jersey lawmakers and advocates say the state needs to do more to get rid of lead problems. (Phil Gregory/WHYY)

New Jersey lawmakers and advocates say the state needs to do more to get rid of lead problems. (Phil Gregory/WHYY)

New Jersey is being urged to do more to reduce lead levels in schools and homes after Environment New Jersey gave the state a C-minus on its efforts to deal with the problem.

New Jersey’s rating is better than many other states because it has acknowledged that it has a lead problem and is testing the drinking water in schools, said Doug O’Malley, group director.

“But, certainly, we are nowhere near being the head of the class because we are not taking it seriously,” he said. “We’ve suffered for way too long with an administration that has continually raided the lead remediation fund.”

Gov. Chris Christie’s proposed budget allocates $10 million for lead remediation.

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Staci Berger, who leads the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey, said Thursday it will cost more than that to keep children from being poisoned by lead at school and at home.

“We are calling on all of our elected officials and all of the candidates running for governor and other elected offices to invest in New Jersey’s housing infrastructure by committing to put in $600 million including the funding that is being used for lead poisoning prevention right now to help us build a thriving New Jersey,” she said.

Every year about 3,500 New Jersey kids are diagnosed with elevated lead levels that can affect their learning ability.

Assembly Environment Committee chairman Tim Eustace said eradicating lead problems will take a concerted effort.

“It’s great we’re doing testing, although there are holes in the testing process,” said Eustace, D-Bergen. “Much larger, we have to make sure that we do actual remediation, we do actual action. This is an emergency.”

Replacing lead-contaminated water pipes and removing lead paint from old homes will be costly, but Sen. Shirley Turner said that is the way to prevent lead poisoning.

“What we do here now is going to save us a lot of heartache as well as money down the road,” said Turner, D-Mercer.

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