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Report: $50M Diverted from NJ Lead Fund

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

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For the past decade, New Jersey officials have “virtually robbed” some $50 million intended for lead hazard controls in order to pay routine bills and salaries, according to a new investigative report.

The money—proceeds from paint and coating sales meant to fund remediation efforts—has been diverted into the general treasury, the Asbury Park Press reported Monday (Jan. 5) after an investigation.

The state has also failed to implement a 2008 rental housing inspection law aimed at reducing lead poisoning, the newspaper found.

NJ state capitol
Lowlova / Wikimedia Commons CC-by-SA 4.0

While lead is New Jersey's top environmental health threat for children, the state’s efforts, or lack thereof, have left countless children exposed to the toxic metal, a newspaper investigation found.

In “$50M taken from NJ child protection fund,” reporter Todd B. Bates shines a harsh light on New Jersey’s efforts to eradicate lead poisoning.

State officials maintain that the number of New Jersey children with lead poisoning has “declined dramatically over the past 20 years” while the number tested has increased significantly, according to Tammori C. Petty, a spokeswoman with state’s Department of Community Affairs.

Top Health Concern

While lead is considered the state’s top environmental health threat for children, the state’s efforts, or lack thereof, have left countless children exposed to the toxic metal, according to the report.

More than 5,000 New Jersey children each year are found to have lead levels of at least 5 micrograms per deciliter of blood, the report noted.

In 2013, Newark had 880 children under 6 with at least 5 micrograms—by far, the highest number in the state— followed by Paterson (385), Jersey City (372), Irvington (250), Trenton (224) and Elizabeth (183), the report found.

child
CDC

Health authorities say there is no "safe" level of lead.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends action to reduce exposure when testing reveals lead levels of 5 micrograms per deciliter or above.

Health authorities say there is no “safe” blood lead level.

Lead is prevalent throughout New Jersey, the nation's most densely populated state and among those with the oldest housing and biggest industrial heritage, according to the state’s Lead Poisoning Elimination Plan.

That plan, written over a decade ago, mandated sharp reductions in childhood lead-blood levels and elimination by 2010.

Paint Proceeds Diverted

A 2004 law, signed by Gov. James E. McGreevey, aimed to address childhood lead poisoning head on.

The law "sets aside $.50 from the sales tax on each can of paint sold in New Jersey and places it in the Lead Hazard Control Assistance Fund." The proceeds, between $7 million and $14 million per year, were supposed to fund a loan or grant program to remove lead paint from homes and rental units.

However, “state budgets can supersede laws requiring funding for various programs,” the report notes.

And most of the paint fees collected—about $53 million since 2004—have been steered into the general treasury, according to the report, citing the state’s Office of Legislative Services, an arm of the Legislature.

paint can
© iStock.com / eurobanks

Under the law, 50 cents for every can of paint or other type of coating sold in the state was to be set aside for lead hazard control efforts.

By contrast, only $23.3 million has gone to the lead fund, according to the Office of Legislative Services.

State officials told the news bureau that $16.2 million of the funding had been spent on 282 projects in 416 dwelling units. An additional $4.5 million was spent on grants for lead education and outreach.

Programs to help relocate lead-poisoned children to lead-safe housing ended in April 2012, according to the report.

Law Unenforced

The report also notes that the state has failed to carry out a 2008 law, signed by Gov. Jon S. Corzine, aimed at reducing lead poisoning in one- and two-family rental dwellings.

Lead paint chart
CDC

Lead-based paint was banned in the U.S. in 1978, but millions of older homes still have lead paint.

With some exceptions, the law requires that rental properties built before 1978 (when leaded paint was banned in the U.S.) be registered with the Department of Community Affairs and maintained in a lead-safe condition.

However, DCA spokeswoman Lisa Ryan told the Asbury Park Press, “It is unfortunate that legislation that had no clear path to enforcement was signed into law in 2008.”

“It is a monstrous undertaking to register one- and two-family rental housing units,” and “we don’t have the massive resources it would take to do so,” she said.

   

Tagged categories: Government; Health and safety; Housing; Lead; Lead paint abatement; Regulations

Comment from John Fauth, (1/7/2015, 8:24 AM)

In truth, many "socially responsible" taxes and fees are nothing more than revenue enhancement packaged in a way that's difficult for legislators to vote against. The real story here is that people actually believe government bureaucracy cares more about the citizenry than perpetuating its bloated self.


Comment from Chuck Pease, (1/7/2015, 4:45 PM)

Amen to that John. Well put!!!


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