On lead poisoning, Christie advises we take a chill pill | Editorial

By Star-Ledger Editorial Board
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on March 13, 2016

Jaylen Smith, 4, of Flint waits in line with his father Keith Sanders to have blood samples taken to be tested for lead

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Chris Christie says childhood lead poisoning is an "over-dramatized issue." Settle down, people. Not every public health scare is cause for panic.

His involuntary quarantine of the "Ebola nurse" without Ebola, of course, wasn't at all histrionic. As he said at the time, "the obligation of elected officials is to protect the public health of all the people."

But this handwringing over lead poisoned two-year-olds? Stop playing politics.

Since Christie made that comment, elevated lead levels were found in 30 Newark schools, and we learned the state has tested just a fraction of the residents it was supposed to screen by now for lead after Hurricane Sandy.

Advocates were already outraged that 3,000 kids in New Jersey were poisoned by lead last year alone, it's entirely preventable, and even a small exposure can cause lasting brain damage. They are using the standard set by the federal Centers for Disease Control.

New Jersey is using a laxer standard, so by the Christie administration's count, 885 children had dangerously high levels of lead last year, "in the entire state." And these kids are being poisoned the usual way, by ingesting lead dust and paint chips.

When you put all this into perspective, the administration says, comparisons to Flint are "totally off base."

Got that? The outrage in Flint, Michigan is real; the outrage here is not. The governor's office won't say how much the state spends on testing kids and homes and how much goes toward eradicating old houses of lead. It refuses to even separate state from federal spending. Christie's spokesman, Kevin Roberts, wrote in an email that he is "not playing these silly games."

But best practice is not to use children as lead detectors. If you move one kid out because of lead poisoning, but don't provide the resources to rehabilitate the home, another child will just move in.

Poor landlords can't afford to root out lead on their properties. Christie has the ability to put money for this in the budget. The funding already exists. When you buy a can of paint, 50 cents is supposed to go to a state program that provides low interest loans to landlords so they can get rid of lead.

People assume this money is being used the way it was intended. Not true. Christie has been swiping it to plug his budget holes, just like his predecessors did. Now that the public is realizing how bad the situation is, he's pointing fingers.

The governor says he vetoed a bill that would have restored $10 million to the fund for removing lead paint from old homes because it was supplemental spending. "If they think that's really important, they should put it in the budget," he said of state lawmakers.

In fact, the Legislature already did. He keeps grabbing it for other purposes. In the meantime, poor toddlers crawl on the floor, get lead dust on their hands, put their hands in their mouths and are diagnosed with brain damage.

If this were your kid, that would seem dramatic. How many more kids have to be poisoned before the governor says it is?

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