State awards $38M for lead paint remediation in 20 counties
Nonprofit organizations and governments in 20 of New Jersey’s counties will split $38 million in federal funds in a bid to address lead paint in New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy announced Wednesday.
The investments are the latest in a series meant to combat the effects of lead exposure on children and remove elements of the toxic metal that have lingered in aging New Jersey homes and water pipes for decades after federal bans.
“We’ve had more than four decades to get far ahead of this curve, but we haven’t, even though we know what the sources of exposure are. We know the homes that are most at risk, and we know how to eliminate that risk,” Murphy said at a press conference in Marlton. “By any definition, knowing that more than 4,500 New Jersey kids in 2023 face lifelong health and cognitive consequences because of lead exposure is not only intolerable, it is an environmental injustice.”
The funds were drawn from federal American Rescue Plan aid the state set aside in the current and last fiscal year. Lawmakers approved $170 million for the purpose in the current budget and $10 million last year.
Ocean County is the only county in the state not to receive funding, either through a county or local government or a nonprofit. Murphy said the administration prioritized awards to areas based on the number of children under six with elevated levels of lead in their blood.
The governor’s office said it would solicit more proposals for lead paint remediation and announce a second, larger tranche of funding before the start of the new fiscal year on July 1, with additional aid for organizations and agencies that have excelled at removing lead paint.
“This program isn’t going to be a one-shot. We will be addressing the issue of lead in New Jersey for quite a long time, just as we did asbestos,” said Lt. Gov Sheila Oliver, who is commissioner of the Department of Community Affairs.
Exposure to lead is particularly harmful to children, especially those under the age of six, whose developing nervous systems make them vulnerable to long-term effects that can include developmental delays and behavioral problems, among others.
“The best way to prevent it is to stop children from coming into contact with lead in the first place,” said Jennifer Aigbodion, executive director of Light Your World Inc., a charitable nonprofit that will receive $4 million for lead remediation in Burlington and Camden counties.
In New Jersey, a lead-lined history
New Jersey, a one-time industrial giant, has for years waged war on lead in water pipes and paint before federal law banned their use more than 35 years ago.
The investments into lead abatement come less than a year after Newark, the state’s most populous city, replaced nearly 24,000 lead service lines after state and federal officials found lead levels in water at city schools surpassed the federal limit of 15 parts per billion.
The project was expected to take roughly a decade to complete but was finished in less than three years, a pace city and state officials have touted as a herculean success.
The state is still working its way to a broader goal of phasing out all lead piping by 2031, another push set to be buoyed by federal aid.
The White House on Friday announced New Jersey and three other states — Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and Wisconsin — would receive funds from the Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Labor to address lead piping.
The total scope of that program, as well as funding levels for individual states or municipalities, remain unclear, but already approved programs leave the federal government with a combined pool of nearly $24 billion devoted to lead remediation.
New Jersey also set aside $300 million in American Rescue Plan funds for water infrastructure projects in the current year’s budget. Some of that money will likely go to lead remediation, but much will be used for other purposes, like flood resilience and sewer system maintenance.
“We have a responsibility going forward to the generation that’s here that suffers from it and to protect future generations that need places to live and will be using these homes,” said Assemblyman Herb Conaway (D-Burlington), chair of the chamber’s health committee.