Report: Lead paint still a threat in NJ

April 29, 2008 3:39:09 PM PDT
New Jersey officials say the state isn't doing a good enough job of protecting citizens from the dangers of lead. A new report found that lead paint still poses a threat, even in homes that have undergone procedures that supposedly fixed the problem. Today, those findings prompted Governor Jon Corzine to sign an executive order.

New Jersey's standard for lead poisoning is 20 micrograms per deciliter of blood. When 3-year-old Kyle Leonard of Trenton was tested last year his levels were over 3-times that.

Kyle's mother Kathy tells Action News, "It was 66, and that was really - he could definitely have gone into a coma. He went right in the hospital, straight in the hospital."

8-year-old Saalam Coaxum of Newark was poisoned too, and suffers from the effects of either eating lead paint chips or breathing lead dust.

"He's brain damaged. He has behavioral problems. He's in speech therapy," said his mother Tanya Coaxum.

In extreme cases lead poisoning can cause coma and death. That's why the NJ Public Advocate is pushing hard to protect children from this continuing problem.

After a year-long study in Camden, Trenton and other cities' officials inspected 104 homes where children had been poisoned before. 82-percent of them still had dangerous levels of lead - some even after they'd been professionally cleaned.

New Jersey public advocate Ronald Chen tells Action News, "What was very alarming to us is that the levels were not only slightly elevated but extremely high."

Considering the majority of New Jersey's housing stock was built before lead paint was banned in 1978, officials are concerned that thousands of children, especially in older urban areas, are in danger.

Assistant Health Commissioner Dr. Eddy Bresnitz says, "If there's dust there created by window sashes scraping the paint, they're ingesting the dust. They're breathing it in."

To address the problem Governor Corzine has signed an executive order requiring state agencies to work together to improve screening, treatment, and help for families who must leave their homes during lead remediation. And they'll crack down on shoddy clean up contractors.

After months of work Kyle Leonard's home has been deemed lead "safe" but not lead free. And his mom worries about lasting effects.

"We wont know until further down the line if there's been permanent damage or not."

The law mandates testing for young children but that doesn't always happen. So the message to parents is make sure your kids get tested for lead, especially if you live in older housing.