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Lead Exposure: Learning From East Trenton Residents

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Gary Brune, JWW Lead in Drinking Water Task Force backbone staff

On August 26, 2021 a virtual Listen and Learn session on the dangers of exposure to lead in paint, water, and soil was attended by nearly 30 East Trenton residents, as well as Mayor Reed Gusciora. The question and answer exchange highlighted new areas of concern and reinforced that there is work to be done to improve communication, notify residents of lead hazards, and expand financial assistance for remediation of known lead sources.

Shereyl Snider, a community organizer with the East Trenton Collaborative, successfully hosted and promoted the 1.5-hour session. The presenters included Elyse Pivnick, Isles, Inc. Senior Director of Environmental Health; Anthony Diaz, New Jersey Future Community Outreach Coordinator; and Gary Brune, New Jersey Future Senior Policy Manager. While Pivnick addressed the issue of exposure to lead in paint and soil, Diaz and Brune discussed lead in drinking water as well as safety tips to maximize protection.

Most residents were surprised to learn that Trenton has the second highest percentage of children up to six years old with elevated blood lead levels (5.9%, trailing only East Orange). Many expressed interest in the free home assessments offered by Isles, Inc. and the availability of grants for low-income homeowners to remediate paint hazards.

What was not surprising was the frequently cited concern about receiving accurate, timely information. Many residents echoed a familiar refrain: public understanding of the lead threat is limited. This was perhaps best captured by Shadura Lee, a teacher and community member, who described the challenges of helping a lead-affected child in her class.

Strong support was expressed for empowering trusted community organizations to convey the impact of lead exposure by engaging in an array of in-person community outreach tactics, including door-to-door canvassing, to reach residents who do not own a computer or cell phone. In addition to raising general awareness, such tactics may be the best way to resolve long-standing misconceptions (e.g., lead can enter the body through bathing and showering, lead can be removed by boiling water, etc.) or clarify confusing guidance (e.g., how long to flush water from a dormant faucet).

Both Isles, Inc. and New Jersey Future plan to incorporate this feedback into their respective work to shape state laws and policies. This includes the Jersey Water Works Lead in Drinking Water Task Force, which issued a report with statewide recommendations in 2019 and continues to press for solutions to this vexing problem. Lead-Free New Jersey, launched recently by New Jersey Future and numerous policy and community partners, seeks to mitigate the prevalence and impact of lead contamination through proactive, equitable state and local policies and a holistic lead approach to remediation. For more information, see www.leadfreenj.org.

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