Remarks as Prepared for Delivery
Thursday, October 10, 2019
Good afternoon, everyone, and thank you, Chris Daggett.
Let me begin by thanking New Jersey Future.
And, to Jersey Water Works’ Lead in Drinking Water Task Force – to Chairman Daggett and everyone who played a part in this report’s creation – I similarly thank you all for putting forward the ideas we need to have out in the public sphere.
In 2019, it is unacceptable that children are still poisoned by exposure to lead. And it’s not just from water. Most children who are exposed to lead are exposed in their homes, where they eat, sleep and play.
We know what the sources of exposure are, and we know how to eliminate them.
The harms of lead exposure are widely documented. In a child, it can cause lifelong damage, impacting brain and neurological development.
Children with lead poisoning are more likely to require additional health care and special education supports. They are seven times more likely to drop out of school and become involved with the juvenile and criminal justice systems.
In 2019, it is simply unconscionable that we would allow any child to shoulder this burden.
New Jersey must move forward with a truly comprehensive and whole-of-government approach to removing the danger of lead from our communities. And, we will.
Working across agencies and with stakeholders from around the state, our administration has developed a multi-pronged plan to ensure that no child’s future is compromised by this solvable problem.
It is a truly comprehensive statewide approach to lead that will make New Jersey the national model for how to address a scourge that exists throughout the country. It is an approach that requires us to dig deep to find the will to do what’s right for our long-term future, rather than reaching for yet another band-aid that we know will only cover the underlying problem.
It’s an effort that extends from the plans I put forward Monday to protect students and faculty from lead in their schools…to today’s focus on water infrastructure improvements, combatting lead in housing, ensuring greater overall transparency and accountability, and creating the properly trained workforce to get the job done.
This is a formidable challenge, and it is one we will take up. Prior to my coming here, I had a meeting with Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, and I briefed them both on the plan I am putting forward today.
And, I am hopeful that we’ll be able to work quickly to see it implemented.
We will begin by working to put to the voters in the 2020 November election a statewide bond initiative, to invest $500 million directly into infrastructure improvements to ensure every water system is safe to drink from and every home is safe to live in.
Lead in water has been making the headlines in New Jersey recently because of the immediacy that an aging water infrastructure has forced upon us. Newark may be where this problem is making the most news, but it is a problem that we know extends far beyond that city’s borders.
As the statewide map that New Jersey Future released last week shows, lead service lines are not just a Newark issue. Nor are they just an urban problem.
This is a problem that is clustered across many of our older suburbs. Lead service lines and connections are just as easily found in Monmouth County’s well-heeled shore communities. They are found in small towns in rural counties, such as Stanhope in Sussex County.
And, these are just the ones we currently know about.
As water systems continue to report their inventories to the state Department of Environmental Protection, we can expect the number of known lead service lines to grow. And, that will require that we be ready to take this challenge on, in all its forms.
To that end, I am today putting forward a goal for New Jersey to remove and replace all lead service lines across our state within the next 10 years.
This is a huge task and it will require partnership and further investments by water systems, developers, and county and local governments and authorities. It will require action by our legislative partners to not just put our financing proposal to the voters, but to pass the legislation necessary to implement a clear plan of action.
But, make no mistake, this is the most significant step we can take to ensure safe and modern water infrastructure.
We’ve let the problem of lead service lines, and copper lines held together with lead solder, sit around for too long to our own detriment. It’s a problem that’s been handed to us by years – and in some cases, generations – of inaction. Well, this is our time for action.
And, still, the effort to remove lead from water delivery lines won’t mean anything if in doing so we ignore the much larger and more insidious part of our lead problem – lead in homes.
Lead wasn’t prohibited from being added to house paint until 1978. Two-thirds of our statewide housing stock predates 1980. Many of New Jersey’s most sought-after communities are chock full of historic homes that are much, much older.
That means, in residences across New Jersey – whether it be a pre-War walkup or 60’s-era apartment in Newark or Trenton or Camden, an old farmhouse in Morris Township or Upper Freehold, a Victorian in Lambertville or Cape May, or a ranch or split-level practically anywhere else -- the base layers of paint likely still contain lead.
And, over decades, the constant opening and closing of windows and doors – wood rubbing and slamming against wood – slowly eroded those paint layers to create a fine, practically unseen dust on windowsills and floors that contains lead.
Without even knowing it, children are being exposed within their own homes.
And even though this is a problem that impacts families all across the state, let me be clear that there is a disproportionate impact in environmental justice communities, in low income communities – communities that are already overburdened with higher-than-average health concerns for their kids, such as the children in Newark’s South Ward who experience asthma rates many times that of their peers.
Our administration is committing to bringing together multiple cabinet departments and agencies, housing advocates as well as homeowner associations and landlords, to create strong cross-industry partnerships focused on ensuring our residents are safe from lead in their own homes.
Currently, homeowners are not required to determine whether there is lead in their paint, service lines, plumbing, or soil prior to the sale of their home. We will work with the legislature to close this loophole, requiring an inspection and disclosure of any lead contamination at point of sale. We will also seek legislation to create a “Lead-Safe” certification for any home for rent, so prospective renters will know that key sources of potential lead contamination have been properly dealt with, whether through abatement or remediation.
And, just as we require children to receive prescribed vaccinations before they enter a childcare setting or begin their public-school educations, we must similarly require children to be tested for lead exposure. And we will work in close partnership with leaders in the public health community around the state to respond to exposure whenever it happens.
I thank Jersey Water Works for noting the need for us to include housing as part of a holistic approach, and I also thank the Green and Healthy Homes Initiative – which many of the same members of Jersey Water Works’ Task Force have been part of – for their long-standing advocacy.
Of course, to accomplish our goals, we need the workforce trained to get it done. And, right now, that’s another challenge we face. At least one-third of our water and wastewater operators are at or near retirement age. As of this past August, there were only 60 certified lead evaluation contractors and 46 certified lead-abatement contractors in the entire state – we will need to greatly augment these ranks.
We will look to our high schools and technical schools to implement new programs where we can train the people we will need on the ground and in homes. We will work with our legislative partners to see where we need to reform licensure requirements so more candidates can be put in the field.
And, we will work with our federal delegation to secure passage of the Water Workforce Development Act – cosponsored by Senator Cory Booker – so we can tackle this challenge at all levels.
We need to find the political will to put every tool at our disposal – and to ensure a more targeted deployment of our resources – to protect children and families, ensure healthy communities, and create a future where the effects of lead are a thing of the past.
The issue of lead is a true public health challenge We must work, across our administration and across organizations, to ensure we not only are taking the proper preventative measures, but to support those children and families currently impacted by lead.
We must do this, and, as I said, it’s a matter of finding our political will to do what’s right not just for this generation of New Jerseyans, but those generations to come.
Lead in our water and in our homes is a problem that was built over decades – in some cases more than a century – and it will not easily be removed.
Lead contamination is a widespread issue, not just in New Jersey, but around the country. The dangers of lead are hard-felt and irreversible.
It is time for us to ensure that New Jerseyans are safe from lead exposure and that generations to come remain safe. Every lead service line we replace is a step forward. Every home we can ensure is “lead safe” is a step forward.
Today, New Jersey Future and Jersey Water Works put forward a great roadmap.
I am proud that our administration is walking along the same path.
Congratulations, again, and thank you, to Chris and everyone for your great work. Thank you all very much.