NEWARK, NJ - New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy announced the establishment of a 24/7 health hotline for residents with questions and concerns about the health effects of lead exposure, one day after stating that he would not declare a state of emergency to deal with the deepening lead water crisis in Newark.
The hotline, the establishment of which was announced jointly on Thursday with the NJ Poison Center, can provide callers with information on what to do if their home has a lead service line, where to get water filters, how to participate in the city’s service line replacement program, as well as the phone number and locations where the City of Newark is distributing free cases of bottled water.
The calls to the hotline (1-866-448-2432) will be answered 24/7 by trained medical professionals - doctors, nurses, and pharmacists - with assistance available in 150 languages.
“Young children and pregnant women are most at risk for lead exposure. Even low levels of lead in blood can affect a child’s ability to pay attention, achieve milestones at school and may even cause behavioral problems,” said Acting state Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli.
“Most children with lead exposure don’t exhibit symptoms," Persichilli said. "That’s why it’s so important that children under six, nursing mothers and pregnant women to be tested for lead exposure.”
“The New Jersey Poison Center has a long history of managing the effects of lead exposure from a variety of sources,” said Dr. Diane Calello, executive and medical director of the New Jersey Poison Information and Education System (NJPIES) at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School in Newark.
“Whether it is a child in an older home with indoor lead paint, a person concerned about drinking water, or a variety of other sources, we have experts standing by to offer advice to the public and healthcare professionals alike,” Calello said.
NJPIES offers guidance on how to prevent lead exposure, the health effects of lead, and offers consultation to healthcare professionals managing patients with elevated blood lead levels. Calello is a pediatric toxicologist with extensive experience and research in environmental lead exposure in children.
The Murphy administration's announcement comes after a series of events this week concerning the notion of declaring a state of emergency in order to deal with the lead contamination water crisis in New Jersey's largest city.
State Assemblyman Jamel Holley, a Democrat from neighboring Union County, sent a letter to Murphy and Newark Mayor Ras Baraka on Tuesday asking the governor to declare a state of emergency. Murphy publicly responded on Wednesday that he would not do so, while Baraka wrote Holley a letter, saying the measure was unnecessary.
The City of Newark and the state Department of Environmental Protection have recommended households in the Pequannock water district use bottled water to drink, cook and mix powdered baby formula. Families living in the area should also give their pets should also be given bottled water. Families who participate in WIC can get ready-to-feed formula from the three WIC clinics serving the city.
Concerned families can also focus on giving their children healthy foods - with calcium, iron, and Vitamin C - that may prevent lead from being absorbed into the body. Milk, yogurt, cheese, and leafy vegetables like spinach offer calcium. Lean meats, beans, peanut butter, and cereals provide iron. Oranges, green, and red peppers are a good source of Vitamin C, as well as juices with Vitamin C, such as orange, tomato, and grapefruit.
The Newark Department of Health and Community Wellness also provides lead testing. University Hospital in Newark will again offer free lead testing on Saturday, August 24, 2019.