Governor Asks Legislature for Additional $10 Million For Lead Testing In Schools, Calls on NJDOE to Strengthen Regs

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Governor Chris Christie announced May 4 that he was seeking an additional $10 million from the Legislature in the FY2017 budget to permit wide spread testing for lead in schools.

Ed Reg Change?

To effectuate the new testing proposal, the Governor directed the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) to mandate lead hazard water testing in schools as part of the current requirement that schols provide safe drinking water.  The new mandate will apply to approximately 3,000 facilities beginning in the next school year.  The NJDOE is tasked with working with the Department of Environmental Protection to determine scientifically appropriate protocols to advise schools of how the testing should be performed, according to their particular needs.

Governor Christie additionally directed Commissioner David Hespe to require schools to publicly post all test results and immediately notify parents if testing shows elevated levels of lead.  Under the proposal, schools must provide parents with a description of any steps the school is taking to ensure safe drinking water will be made available to students.

The $10 million would be appropriated to support schools in complying with the expanded testing and notification regulations and make the districts more accountable.

Health Department Action

The Governor also directed Acting Health Commissioner Cathleen Bennett to move forward with regulatory changes to strengthen New Jersey’s standard for intervening in cases of potential lead exposure.  New Jersey will join 25 percent of states in requiring earlier intervention when lower levels of lead are detected in a child — from 10 micrograms per deciliter of blood to between 5 and 9 micrograms, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control.   The change will enable public health officials and medical providers to intervene with education, case management, home visits and other steps as appropriate to address health hazards caused by lead exposure and bring children’s blood lead levels down below the level of concern at the earliest possible time.

Past Action

Earlier this year, Governor Christie announced the dedication of $10 million of existing funds from the 2016 budget to support improved lead remediation and containment for low- and moderate-income households where lead-based paint, outlawed in 1978, is found.

New Jersey is one of just 17 states that require universal lead screening of all children at ages 1 and 2. Other states target screening only to children at increased risk for lead exposure. Screenings for lead exposure have increased dramatically over the past 20 years with 20 times more children being tested in 2015 (206,221) as compared with just 10,200 children in 1998. Even as the number of children tested has increased, the number of children with elevated blood lead levels has been cut nearly in half from 1,481 in 1998 to 898 in 2015. According to the latest data, 97 percent of New Jersey’s children fewer than 6 years of age have had at least one blood lead test in their lifetime.