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Lead poisoning remains a hidden epidemic in New Jersey | Opinion

Enrique Rivera, Lauryn Tilghman and Maria Emerson - Special to the USA TODAY Network

Enrique Rivera, Lauryn Tilghman and Maria Emerson - Special to the USA TODAY Network

Published in the Courier-Post September 1, 2022

Lead in drinking water gets a lot of attention in America. Although lead poisoning can be a direct cause of lead in drinking water, lead poisoning from water sources makes up a very small percentage of the total cases of human lead poisoning in America. The main culprit is often either hidden or visible in your home — walls, household balusters, baseboards, doors and windows often contain lead paint, and the resulting dust and chipping caused by repeated friction leads to lead poisoning. Lead-based paint was banned from residential use in New Jersey in 1971; however, it was not banned nationally until 1978. So, the legacy of lead paint continues today as many households simply painted over the original lead paint or improperly disposed of it.

Long-term exposure to lead causes many health issues for seniors, expecting individuals, and, most notably to children under age 6. Lead exposure primarily affects the brain and has been linked to Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, mood swings, behavioral problems, constant migraines, abdominal pain, irritability, memory loss, anemia, seizures, infertility and even death.

A study published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences entitled “Half of U.S. population exposed to adverse lead levels in early childhood” suggests that more than 170 million Americans alive today were exposed to high lead levels in early childhood. Compare that to the 87 million confirmed COVID-19 cases in the U.S. as of June 28, 2022. The study also suggests 824,097,690 IQ points have been lost as of 2015 due to exposure to lead. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic might be contributing to more Americans getting lead poisoned. A recent New York Times article suggests “More Childhood Lead Poisoning Is a Side Effect of Covid Lockdowns,” since lead screenings for children decreased and stay-at-home orders may have increased household exposure to lead.

What can you do? The only way you can tell if you’ve been exposed is to get tested for elevated lead levels in your blood. In adults, an elevated blood level is considered 10 micrograms per deciliter while that number is 3.5 micrograms per deciliter for children. However, there are no known safe levels of lead exposure. Multiple studies have shown even small exposures to lead can affect IQ, learning, memory, and present challenging behavior in children. Prevention is the only way to ensure you and your children’s safety from lead dangers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests taking the following steps to ensure you and your environment are lead-safe:

Blood Test: The only way to determine if you are being affected by lead is through blood lead level screenings. Ask your health care provider for these tests. All children should be screened at least once at 12 months and 24 months of age. If they have never been tested, children should be screened no later than six years of age. Free tests may be available from your local health department or Federally Qualified Health Centers. Health insurances normally cover this test without any deductible.

Home Testing: Lead is normally found as dust and chipped paint inside houses and can look like crocodile skin. If your home was built before 1978, chances are you may have lead hazards in your home. Dust with lead particles can be inhaled by children and adults. That dust can be generated by old doors, windows and staircases that were painted with lead paint. You can test your home for lead dangers with an inexpensive lead swipe test kit from a hardware store. Saint Joseph’s Carpenter Society in Camden provides a free home testing program for Camden, Burlington, Gloucester and Salem Counties. If lead is found, the home can be remediated free of charge based on income levels.

Other methods of lead poisoning prevention include regularly washing your and your children’s hands and faces with soap and water, washing toys and pacifiers, cleaning with a high-efficiency particulate air vacuum — paying special attention to friction surfaces — and wet washing surfaces to pick up dust. Make sure you wear gloves and properly dispose of all cleaning wipes. Eating a healthy, balanced diet with adequate levels of calcium, iron, vitamin C, zinc and magnesium helps minimize the absorption of lead in the body.

Lead is an understated issue in America, but one that can be mitigated. Make sure you, your family and your home get tested for lead and that you are cleaning properly, especially if your home was built before 1978. New Jersey can be closer to being lead-safe if we take these steps.

For more information, contact Southern New Jersey Perinatal Cooperative’s Lead and Healthy Homes Program Coordinator Lauryn Tilghman by phone at 856-665-6000 or by email at For blood lead testing, contact Virtua Health Pediatric Mobile Services Director of Rehabilitation Services Maria Emerson by phone at 609-304-7176 or by email at

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