PO Box 360
Trenton, NJ 08625-0360

For Release:
December 16, 2015

Cathleen D. Bennett
Acting Commissioner

For Further Information Contact:
Office of Communications
(609) 984-7160

Op-Ed: New Jersey Takes Childhood Lead Poisoning Seriously

By Acting Health Commissioner Cathleen D. Bennett

Every day in New Jersey, in local health departments, community health centers, doctors’ offices, WIC clinics and in home visits with at-risk populations, health professionals are conducting blood tests for children to see if they have elevated levels. Every day these professionals and many others, including partners and stakeholders in public education, teach families about how to prevent lead poisoning, which can cause behavior and learning problems, lower IQ, hyperactivity, slowed growth, hearing problems, anemia and kidney damage.

Each year, the Department spends $11 million to support evidence-based home visitation programs. These programs bring nurses, community health workers and, in some cases, trained parents into the homes of at-risk families to provide information on lead poisoning and referrals on child health and safety issues.

Other Health Department programs educate mothers in the Women, Infant and Children program—known as WIC. In fact, every mother or caregiver who enters one of the state’s 100 WIC clinics is interviewed to check that their child has been tested for lead. If they have not, they are referred to a clinic or physician for immediate testing. If a child’s tests show elevated levels of lead in the blood, the family is warned about potential sources of lead exposure in the home. These can include chipped paint and unsafe imported products. The family is advised of the benefits of foods rich in Iron, Vitamin C and calcium.

For years, New Jersey’s poison control center, the New Jersey Poison Information and Education System (NJPIES), has used its state funding for lead poisoning education, including a 24-hour hotline (1-800-222-1222). The agency also has issued numerous warnings about non-traditional sources of lead poisoning, such as imported candies, jewelry, cosmetics, spices, pottery and home remedies.

The number of New Jersey children with lead poisoning has dropped 75 percent over two decades from 13,448 in 1996 to 3,426 cases today. And the number of children who are tested for lead each year has increased to more than 200,000 children in the past fiscal year.

After Superstorm Sandy devastated New Jersey—heightening the risk of lead exposure because of debris from thousands of destroyed homes—the Health Department procured a $5.4 million federal grant to fight lead poisoning. This funding was distributed as follows:

• $4.1 million in grants to 11 local health departments for lead testing
• $373,201 in lead-testing kits and equipment for local health departments
• $750,000 for regional coalitions to conduct public education for inspectors and other professionals who visit homes
• $150,000 to the NJ Chapter of American Academy of Pediatrics for continuing medical education for health care providers to better understand how housing hazards can result in lead poisoning

More than 14,150 children, pregnant women and recovery workers have been tested so far in the Superstorm Sandy project including nearly 5,000 people in Monmouth, 3,320 in Essex, 3,000 in Hudson and 1,300 in Ocean counties.

Certainly challenges remain as long as there are children with lead poisoning, but county and local public health officials, doctors, nurses and community health workers strive every day to reduce and prevent childhood lead poisoning.

Last Reviewed: 12/16/2015