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Camden steps up effort to curb lead in homes

Camden yesterday became the first city in New Jersey to sign an agreement with the state public advocate to fight lead poisoning.

Camden yesterday became the first city in New Jersey to sign an agreement with the state public advocate to fight lead poisoning.

The agreement followed a yearlong investigation by Public Advocate Ronald K. Chen that found many problems with the state's efforts to prevent, identify and treat lead poisoning among children.

The study found, for example, that many children are not tested for lead poisoning despite a state mandate for screenings. It also found that dangerous levels of lead often remained in homes that had allegedly undergone lead abatement.

"Lead poisoning is a completely preventable problem that affects far too many of our children here in Camden and in cities throughout the state of New Jersey," said Mayor Gwendolyn A. Faison in a ceremony attended by families whose children have suffered lead poisoning. "We are dedicated to doing whatever it takes to keep our children safe."

Under the agreement, Camden will become a "model lead-safe city." That means the city will work to improve outreach on the issue of lead poisoning, increase the number of children screened for lead poisoning, improve the inspections for properties that may be contaminated with lead, increase oversight over lead abatement contractors, and help families whose homes have dangerous levels of lead to relocate to safer housing.

Camden will designate a coordinator to lead the city's efforts to prevent and respond to lead poisoning. The city will also train its housing inspectors to become licensed lead inspectors and risk assessors, require that everyone living in a multi-unit residential building be notified if a child who lives there is diagnosed with lead poisoning and apply for federal grants to support the city's efforts to combat lead poisoning.

Theodore Z. Davis, Camden's chief operating officer, added: "It is completely unacceptable for children in this city to be sickened in their own homes due to exposure to deteriorating lead paint. I am pleased that the approach we have developed here in Camden emphasizes collaboration among our citizens, government agencies, nonprofit organizations and the city's vital health-care community."

Camden officials estimate that 2.3 percent of the children in New Jersey who have suffered from lead poisoning live in the city. About 80 percent of Camden's housing was built before the national ban on the sale of lead paint in 1978 and about 57 percent of the housing was built before 1950, when lead paint was commonly used in homes.