- Associated Press - Sunday, January 4, 2015

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) - New Jersey officials have diverted more than $50 million away from a lead poisoning health fund over the past decade so routine state bills and salaries could be paid, according to a newspaper analysis.

The Asbury Park Press (https://on.app.com/1zJfDdY) reports the diversions were approved by Democratic and Republican governors and the Legislature. It also found the state failed to implement a 2008 rental housing inspection law aimed at reducing lead poisoning.

Lead, a toxic metal found everywhere in the environment, can cause brain damage and learning and behavioral problems. The metal is in old paint chips and dust, playground soil and even some imported candies.

Lead has been deemed the state’s top environmental health threat for children. More than 5,000 New Jersey children each year are found to have well above-average lead contamination.

The newspaper found that since 2004, the state has steered more than $50 million into its general treasury instead of its Lead Hazard Control Assistance Fund. That’s according to the state Office of Legislative Services, an arm of the Legislature.

State budgets can supersede laws requiring funding for various programs.

The law tapped sales tax revenues collected for every container of paint or other type of surface coating sold. The money - $7 million to $14 million a year - is supposed to fund a loan and grant program to remove lead paint from homes and rental units.

Advocates say the $50 million could help prevent lead poisoning in thousands of children.

State officials say the number of children with lead poisoning in New Jersey has declined dramatically over the past 20 years, while the number of children tested for it has increased significantly.

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Information from: Asbury Park (N.J.) Press, https://www.app.com

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