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Eliminating the Toxic Legacy of Lead in New Jersey

Lead exposure, and the lifelong effects associated with it, continue to impact New Jersey’s diverse and vibrant communities, disproportionately impacting the state’s communities of color. In 2016, over 4,800 New Jersey children had elevated blood lead levels. Lead poisoning is an entirely preventable childhood environmental illness, which causes changes in the structure and function of the developing brain as well as other symptoms, preventing children from reaching their full potential. Lead exposure can cause developmental delays and behavioral symptoms, diminished IQ scores, lower rates of high school graduation and lower lifetime earning potential.

In their efforts to protect children from lead exposure, New Jersey has instituted strong lead-related regulations, including a universal blood lead screening mandate for children under 6 years, and required abatement of all lead hazards in homes where a child has been poisoned. However, New Jersey’s under-resourced communities lack access to lead poisoning prevention resources and safe, affordable housing and environments.

New Jersey’s advocates and community-based organizations have long worked to bring attention to the issue of lead poisoning, to advance innovative legislative solutions and to advocate resources to support critical lead poisoning prevention and mitigation services. As a result of these efforts, in 2017 New Jersey became one of a subset of states to adopt the CDC-recommended blood lead level of action (5mg/dL), and has made significant investments in preventing and mitigating the impact of lead, including $10 million in grants to local and county health departments for lead case management, and a $10 million-funded residential lead remediation pilot. Gov. Phil Murphy has identified addressing lead poisoning as a key priority of his administration. Thus, there is a unique opportunity to marshal the resources and political will needed to craft innovative solutions addressing lead risks in housing, soil, and drinking water, and to finally end this preventable childhood illness in New Jersey.

Green & Healthy Homes Initiative (GHHI) partnered with the Fund for New Jersey, a policy and systems-change statewide New Jersey funder, and New Jersey Health Initiatives, the statewide grantmaking arm of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, to create a strategic plan to eliminate lead poisoning in New Jersey, the 2018 New Jersey Lead Poisoning Prevention Action Plan. The Action Plan details specific, actionable strategies to eliminate childhood lead poisoning in New Jersey in 10 years. Recommendations incorporate insights from dozens of stakeholders statewide, including Advocates for Children of New Jersey, Housing & Community Development Network of New Jersey, and Isles, Inc, and best practices from GHHI’s Strategic Plan to End Childhood Lead Poisoning.

The collaborative partners involved in the Action Plan continue to work together with the support of the Fund for New Jersey, to implement key lead poisoning elimination strategies, including promoting legislation requiring residential lead safe certifications, strengthening drinking water testing and disclosure requirements, supporting data-driven primary prevention services, and advancing strategies to invest healthcare dollars in lead abatement and remediation. GHHI is also providing strategic technical assistance to the New Jersey Department of Health, and the state’s 24 local and county Childhood Lead Exposure Prevention Program (CLEPP) grantees, to advance these strategic priorities.

New Jersey has the capacity to be a national leader in the elimination of lead poisoning. If stakeholders continue to work together to adopt best practices, we can end the toxic legacy of lead for the state’s next generation of children.

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