HACKENSACK, N.J. -- Low-income Bergen County families living in homes that are more than 40 years old can have their property assessed for lead hazards to mitigate their exposure to the damaging and potentially deadly toxic metal. 

The county will receive a $3.3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Office of Lead Hazard Control and Healthy Homes. The monies will be used to assess the residences of low-income families for traces of the toxicant who either rent or own their properties. 

“Under this grant, the County will be able to perform assessments and remove lead paint and other lead hazards affecting hundreds of residents,” said County Executive James J. Tedesco in a press release. “Working with our federal legislators, this is an important step in our overall efforts to eliminate the hazards posed by lead inside and outside the home.”

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Lead, according to the World Health Organization, is a naturally occurring toxic metal found in the earth’s crust, the environmental contamination of which can spread through various activities including mining, manufacturing, recycling and the use of lead-based paint. In older structures built before 1978, lead-based paint and lead-contaminated dust are common origins of lead poisoning in children. 

Lead poisoning, though rare with less than 200,000 reported cases per year, can result from a gradual buildup of lead in the body over months or years of exposure. Symptoms of continued lead exposure can include high blood pressure, loss of developmental skills in children, anemia, aggressive behavior and kidney dysfunction. 

To qualify for an assessment and removal, Bergen County residents must have an annual income of $53,000 for a family of four and have a child under six living in, or spending most of their time at residence. If lead is identified in the home, the county will work with contractors to remove lead-based paint hazards. According to a press release from the county, about three-quarters of the total housing stock in Bergen County are more than 40 years.         

A portion of the grant money is allocated to increase the health and safety of the home occupants, which includes replacing smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. If the toxicant is found in the residence, the county will assist families in temporarily relocating while the paint is removed. 

Assessments were performed last year with the $375,000 the county received from the New Jersey Department of Health for the Childhood Lead Exposure Prevention (CLEP) program in addition to tracking lead exposure in children who have tested positive for high lead levels found in their blood, or in excess of 5 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood, a statistic which, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, accounts for roughly 500,000 U.S. children between the ages of 1 and 5. 

At that time, the county also used the CLEP funds to purchase additional equipment to test for lead on toys, cookware and even makeup to ascertain the causes of lead exposure. Children are especially vulnerable to lead’s toxic effects; exposure can result in damage to their developing brain, nervous system and kidneys. Adults who work in auto repair shops and perform home renovations are also at an increased risk of exposure.      

Drinking water dispensed through lead pipes may also contain lead. During the Flint Water Crisis in 2014, 100,000 residents in Flint, Michigan were exposed to elevated lead levels in their blood after the water source was adjusted -- for the sake of less expensive costs -- from Lake Huron and the Detroit River to a source of the Flint River. Because the water was inadequately treated, the lead was discharged from water pipes into the drinking water. 

“From Flint, Michigan to Newark, we’ve seen the devastating effects lead can have on quality of life,” said Congressman Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-9) in a news release. “Whether it be in the water in our pipes or the paint on our walls, all levels of our government are united in removing this health hazard from our communities quickly and permanently.”

Congressman Josh Gottheimer said he’s working on new legislation to obtain the resources to help North Jersey schools identify and replace lead pipes.  
"Every family deserves to drink water that's free of lead, and to know if their child's school or their home has lead in their pipes,” said Gottheimer in the news release. “With this investment from HUD, we are continuing to claw back more of our federal tax dollars from Washington, boosting our return on investment, and helping minimize the impact on our local property taxes.”

Said Tedesco, “This vital federal funding will help us remove lead hazards in the home and not only make it safer for children, but for anyone else who occupies that home in the future.”