There is no safe level of lead exposure for children, according to the Centers for Disease Control, and about half a million children in the United States have levels of lead in their blood high enough to qualify as lead poisoning. Even in small amounts, lead can irreversibly damage kids with diminished I.Q., learning disabilities and impaired hearing.

Kids ‘being used as lead detectors’

Lead poisoning is a big issue in New Jersey, too, according to Phyliss Salowe-Kaye, executive director of New Jersey Citizen Action, one of the community organizations joining the lawsuit. “Our housing is so old; our schools are so old. Our kids are being used as lead detectors,’’ Salowe-Kay said.

The biggest source of exposure to children comes from lead-based paint disintegrating over time and contaminated dust in homes and schools, although lead also accumulates in soil around these structures.

In New Jersey, as elsewhere, kids also are exposed to the contaminant in drinking water, primarily through lead leaching from lead-service lines leading into homes and schools. Earlier this year, the state Department of Environmental Protection projected it could cost up to $2.3 billion to replace all the lead-service lines in New Jersey that are compromised. No source of funding has been identified for that project.

One of the most common causes of lead poisoning in children is the ingestion of household dust containing lead from peeling paint. Yet, even under EPA’s new rules, 50 percent of children living in homes that meet the agency’s standards could develop blood levels above the health threshold, according to the coalition represented by Earthjustice.

EPA updated the rule in June as a result of an earlier Earthjustice lawsuit. A federal appeals court ordered the agency to update its dust lead hazard standard.

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