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Swain & Tully: Many in N.J. have been exposed to dangerous levels of lead and don’t even know it

By Assemblywoman Lisa Swain and Assemblyman Christopher Tully

The infamous discovery of lead contamination in Flint, Michigan helped shine a light on the grim reality of our nation’s water crisis. All across America, lead has been found in the water supplies of thousands of communities, and unfortunately, New Jersey is no exception.

The simple act of drinking or cooking with tap water in areas such as Trenton, Newark and towns throughout Bergen and Hudson counties has exposed far too many residents to lead without their knowledge.

Lead is a toxic substance that can damage bodily systems if accumulated in the bloodstream, which the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has said can lead to cardiovascular, kidney and reproductive issues in adults.

However, lead is even more tragically dangerous for children. The World Health Organization (WHO) and Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have asserted that there is no safe blood lead level. Irreversible health problems such as anemia, stunted growth, learning difficulties, behavioral issues, hearing loss and brain damage are all possible outcomes of childhood exposure to lead.

These harmful consequences are unacceptable for anyone to have to endure. No parent should have to see their child struggle with medical issues that could have been prevented.

As legislators whose constituents have been especially impacted by this issue, we understand the importance of lead-related testing and notification, as well as the removal of this chemical element from our water supplies. That is why we have introduced a bill package with solutions our state must act upon in order to protect our residents.

One major issue with the lead crisis is the lack of information people have about its presence in their water supply.

To help combat this problem, the bills call for testing of certain residential properties. Schools and childcare centers should be tested every three years. Public water systems should also be required to provide water tests for customers who have reason to suspect their drinking water may contain lead.

Awareness of the problem is the first step in managing its effects, since various preventative measures can reduce lead exposure. Running the tap for several minutes ahead of water consumption, installing a lead filter, regularly cleaning the faucet screen, and relying solely on bottled water can all help limit one’s exposure.

Yet none of these actions are likely to be taken by the average person, which is why it’s crucial for affected individuals to be promptly notified about any discovery of lead contamination in their water. As such, public water systems should be required to provide their customers with notice of elevated lead levels no more than 10 days after it has been detected. The notice should include information about the health effects of lead and how to minimize them. From there, landlords must be obligated to share the information they received with their tenants, since it is the owner of the building who is notified about the contaminated water.

Renters and homeowners also have a right to know if their potential residence has issues with water quality. It should be compulsory for real estate brokers to inquire about whether a property has lead plumbing and then convey that information to potential buyers so they can make an educated decision.

However, the necessary protections do not stop there. It’s important to address the root of the issue, which is why municipalities need the ability to establish loan programs to help local homeowners replace their lead service lines. Finally, water service companies must be urged to replace the lead service lines affecting their customers as quickly as possible.

The irreversible and long-lasting impact of lead exposure on our communities cannot be taken lightly.

We will always put the residents of New Jersey first, and the aforementioned recommendations in our legislative package are just some of the ways we will continue to strive to protect their health and safety.