Hoping to eradicate childhood lead poisoning, N.J. groups join forces

Ruth Ann Norton, president of the Green and Healthy Homes Initiative, says more prevention efforts are needed so children don’t suffer learning disabilities and organ damage from lead poisoning. She spoke Wednesday at the State House in Trenton. (Phil Gregory/WHYY)

Ruth Ann Norton, president of the Green and Healthy Homes Initiative, says more prevention efforts are needed so children don’t suffer learning disabilities and organ damage from lead poisoning. She spoke Wednesday at the State House in Trenton. (Phil Gregory/WHYY)

Activists are proposing an action plan to eliminate childhood lead poisoning in New Jersey within a decade.

More prevention efforts are needed so children don’t suffer learning disabilities and organ damage from lead poisoning, said Ruth Ann Norton, president of the Green and Healthy Homes Initiative.

“Kids poisoned by lead are seven times more likely to drop out of school,” she said. “They will earn about a million dollars less over their lifetime. They will also face higher risk of hypertension, cardiac arrest, and early death.”

Staci Berger, president and CEO of the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey, said the plan would require regular inspection of all rental housing.

“Landlords should have to affirmatively show that their homes are free of risk for children from lead paint.” she said. “It needs to be done for every rental home — but especially in the one- and two-family homes, which are not currently inspected as rigorously as multi-family apartments are.”

Activists are hoping the governor increases funding for a hazard-control program to remove lead paint from homes.

The plan would mandate that the state share data on neighborhoods where lead-exposure risks are high, said Peter Chen with Advocates for Children of New Jersey.

“Any successful lead-prevention strategy is going to require a strong data strategy to get information in the hands of the people who can use it best,” Chen said. “We’re talking about local health department, nonprofits, community groups, and families themselves.”

Gov. Phil Murphy should appoint an environmental justice coordinator to achieve the objectives of the action plan, said Elyse Pivnick, the director of environmental health at Isles, Inc., a community development organization in Trenton.

“I’m very optimistic,” she said. “We have a governor who has publicly stated his commitment to reduce lead poisoning in New Jersey and provide better services for our children.”

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