New laws help make N.J. national leader in lead poisoning prevention

Legislation will require regular inspections for lead paint hazards in rental properties and replacement of lead service lines

Gov. Phil Murphy, in a move that he said will make the state a national leader in lead poison prevention, signed three bills Thursday morning that will require regular inspections for, and the remediation of, lead-based paint hazards in residential rental properties and require the inventory, replacement and financing of lead service lines throughout the state within the next 10 years.

The bills — which were hailed by elected officials and industry leaders — do the following:

  • S1147/A1372: Requires lead paint inspection on certain residential rental property, including upon tenant turnover; establishes lead-based paint hazard education program; appropriates $3.9 million.
  • A5343/SS3398: Requires public community water systems to inventory and replace lead service lines within 10 years; provides for recoupment of costs by investor-owned public water systems.
  • A5407/S3459: Removes restrictions on special assessments and bond issuances for replacement of residential lead service lines; revises budgetary requirements for operators of certain water systems.

Murphy said all three will lead to better health for residents.

“We are taking a significant step forward in our strategy to reduce lead exposure in our homes,” he said. “Modernizing our aging water infrastructure with new lead service lines is critical in ensuring safe drinking water flows through our communities.

“In addition to replacing service lines, we must also go further to protect those in older homes and apartments where door jambs and window sashes may be coated in decades of layers of lead-based paints, creating fine particulates that are unknowingly inhaled and ingested. Today, we are taking the most aggressive action in the nation to reduce lead-based paint exposure in our homes and communities, which is a critical victory for public health and environmental justice, and advances New Jersey as a national leader in lead poisoning prevention.”

Sponsors of the bills showed how the numbers associated with lead poisoning continue to be staggering:

  • Troy Singleton (D-Moorestown) said approximately 350,000 homes and businesses in New Jersey are served by lead service lines;
  • Nilsa Cruz-Perez (D-Camden) said 80% of lead poisoning cases are caused by lead-based paint in homes built before 1978;
  • Joseph Lagana (D-Paramus) said 4,697 children age 6 and younger had elevated blood lead levels in 2017;
  • Linda Greenstein (D-Cranbury) said it is estimated that at least 20% of lead exposure towards humans comes from drinking water, with formula-fed infants possibly receiving 40-60% of lead exposure from the same source.

Of course, all of these statistics likely have only increased in the past year, since the pandemic meant most people were spending far more time in their homes.

It has created a sense of urgency, Sen. Vin Gopal (D-Ocean Twp.) said.

“We have long known that lead service lines affect the quality of our drinking water, and endanger our children, and it is time we started addressing the problem with real, long-term solutions,” he said. “Low-income customers are often the most affected by these lead lines, and they should not have to incur the cost of replacing them when they fall on their property. We need to move quickly to appropriate funds, where needed, to replace aging lead service lines for the good of our state, and its public health.”

Assemblyman Gary Schaer (D-Passaic) said the issue is biggest in the state’s poorest communities.

“Lifelong health effects from lead exposure are not limited to the thousands of new cases New Jersey records annually, but have defined daily life in New Jersey’s impoverished and minority communities for generations,” he said. “For these communities, lead exposure is the silent epidemic that has never warranted a bold and unified response, until today.”

Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Shawn LaTourette said the bills are just a start of the process.

“New Jersey residents can rest assured that, while lead lines are replaced, DEP will be protecting their health every day by mandating all water systems to undertake proactive lead risk reduction measures,” he said.

Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Newark) said she’s glad to see New Jersey is taking the lead on the issue.

“With today’s signing, New Jersey has become the fourth state in the nation to enact legislation targeted at ensuring our residential properties are free of lead-based paint, protecting our children against exposure,” she said. “Within certain areas of the state, as many as 7.6% of children have elevated blood lead levels. This takes the first step in beginning to address the issue by identifying the properties in need of remediation and providing funding for landlords to remove this hazard before welcoming new tenants.

“This legislation has been years in the making and I look forward to seeing this impact it has on families around the state.”