NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—New Jersey's government has diverted $50 million over the past decade from a lead control effort to pay routine bills and salaries, according to an investigation by Todd Bates of the Asbury Park Press.
The investigation showed that since 2004, at least $53.7 million was diverted to the state's general treasury, rather than going into the Lead Hazard Control Assistance Fund, as required by a 2004 law that created the fund.
Specifically, the law mandates that 50 cents be allocated to the fund for for every can of paint or coating sold. Lead-based paint, no longer sold in the United States, is one of the main causes of lead poisoning.
The investigation found that the Lead Hazard Control Assistance Fund only received $22.3 million in funding during 2006, since its creation two years earlier. Estimates by the Office of Legislative Services estimated that by 2015, the fund should receive anywhere between $77 and $144 million.
Each year, the fund would have received between a minimum of $7 million and a maximum of $14 million, which would have funded a loan and grant program to remove lead paint from homes and apartments. Instead, the money was diverted to help the state make ends meet.
Lead is a toxic, heavy metal often found in pipes, paint, pigments, weights, ammunition, storage batteries and cable covers.
It was most heavily used between the 1930's and 1970's. Before its ban in 1995, lead was found to greatly increase the performance as an additive to gasoline.
“It’s another horrible example of the governor taking money that was designated for an important purpose and putting it in the general fund,” Arnold Cohen, senior policy coordinator at the Trenton-based Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey, told the APP.
The investigation by the pointed out that New Jersey schools do not require a child to be tested to lead poisoning prior to admittance. Approximately 5,000 children each year in the state of New Jersey are believed to have dangerous levels of lead in their blood.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, children between one and five years old can suffer from an array of developmental issues and disorders if they are exposed to enough lead to leave them with more than five micrograms per deciliter (mg/dL) of blood.
Approximately 0.3% of children in Middlesex County between the ages of one and three have a blood lead level of at least ten micrograms per deciliter of blood. Out of the county's 828,919 residents, 6% are below the age of three.
Therefore, an estimated 149 Middlesex County children under the age of three had dangerously high levels of lead in their bloodstream.
Still, Middlesex County trails far behind other counties in New Jersey, including Cumberland, Essex, Salem, Cape May, Union and Passaic County, according to official data.