NJ lawmakers seek solutions for childhood lead poisoning

TRENTON, N.J. -- Lawmakers in Trenton are searching for solutions to an age-old problem that has jeopardized the health of thousands of children: lead poisoning.

New Jersey doesn't require schools to test water for lead, but some school districts are doing it on their own.

R.J. James is living proof of what can happen when a child is exposed to lead.

When he was a baby, he lived in an apartment in Trenton his mother later learned was covered in lead paint. He was poisoned, and now the two-year-old is living proof that exposure to lead can cause devastating health effects in children.

"Right now he's going through seizures and he has like, a behavior problem. He's not understanding, he's not talking, he has a speech problem," said Rashaniea Bradley.

Whether it's a lead paint chips in the home or lead in the water at schools as we've seen lately, the push is on in New Jersey to battle lead poisoning, highlighted by a forum in Trenton this morning where advocates are pushing for a law to mandate water testing in all schools.

"There's some state of the art schools but there are more older schools and that's where I think the problems are," said Rose Acerra of the NJ Parent-Teacher Association.

Hamilton Twp. is the most recent school district to report high levels of lead in the water. A fountain at Greenwood Elementary, built in 1917, was shut down and Morgan School, built in 1957, has brought in water coolers and stopped cooking on location as a precaution.

Hamilton just began testing recently, the Trenton school district has been doing it for years.

"I know that through the course of the program they've taken things off-line, they've capped them, they've gone through and removed the equipment at the source," said Trenton school board president Jason Redd.

Identifying water with high lead levels is just the first step. Senate president Steve Sweeney of Gloucester County says beyond that, the state is going to have to figure out a way to replace aging infrastructure contaminated with lead.

"It's going to be very expensive but it's something we can't ignore. We are poisoning children and that's not acceptable," Sweeney said.

Just ask little RJ's mom.

"I really feel bad because now he's got to live with this for the rest of his life," she said.

Last year in New Jersey, there were more than 3,000 new cases of children under six with elevated lead levels.