Gov. Murphy announced an ambitious plan on Oct. 10 to address the state’s lead contamination crisis. Chief among the proposals is a $500 million bond to finance the replacement of all lead service lines and the remediation of lead-based paint in homes across the state. His goal is to have a referendum placed before the voters during the November 2020 general election, and he said he hopes to replace all lead service lines within the next 10 years.
The governor’s proposed strategy also includes several initiatives that would directly impact New Jersey’s public school facilities and students, including a requirement that all children be tested for lead exposure before they begin their schooling.
“In 2019, it is unacceptable that children are still poisoned by exposure to lead,” the governor said at Thursday’s press conference. “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,” Murphy said. “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.”
The governor’s proposal comes on the heels of a previous announcement that the N.J. Department of Education (NJDOE) will develop new regulations that will require school districts to test for lead in their drinking water more often.
Under existing regulations, schools must perform such testing every six years. The governor is recommending more frequent testing – every three years.
The NJDOE will also publicly share the results of the testing in a state-maintained database and increase enforcement to ensure compliance. Funding from the “Securing Our Children’s Future Bond Act,” which was approved by the voters in November 2018 and includes $100 million for school district water infrastructure improvements, will be prioritized to reduce lead exposure in schools, Murphy said.
The governor also emphasized early detection and intervention as effective strategies to combat lead exposure. Under his plan, the departments of Health, Human Services, and Children and Families “will work to include blood level testing as a requirement for entry into public child care, preschool, and schools.”
Murphy also recognized the need for training on remediation and maintenance in order to achieve the required upgrades and improvements to the state’s water infrastructure. To that end, the Department of Labor and Workforce Development, the Office of the Secretary of Higher Education, and the NJDOE will develop workforce training and career outreach programs to high schools, vocational-technical schools, and community colleges to recruit younger generations into the trades.
More details on the governor’s plan can be found here.