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Trenton launches effort to get kids tested for lead poisoning after elevated levels found near school

South Jersey mayor concerned about kids after high lead levels found near Trenton elementary school
South Jersey mayor concerned about kids after high lead levels found near Trenton elementary school 02:29

TRENTON, N.J. (CBS) — The city of Trenton has launched a new campaign to get more kids tested for lead poisoning, after hundreds of students may have been exposed at a local elementary school.

On Tuesday, the Environmental Protection Agency was still replacing soil and continuing remediation work outside the Grant Intermediate School, where elevated levels of lead were found on the playground in January. A few weeks earlier, Mayor Reed Gusciora requested testing by the Environmental Protection Agency.

"The big concern is children. Kids tend to put things in their mouth more than others and we don't want them eating any of the contaminated material," said Andrew Confortini, the on-site coordinator with the EPA. 

Over the past four months, Gusciora said, only 118 students, out of more than 600, have been tested so far for possible lead exposure.

"Our city's health department staff will be going door-to-door to offer free lead testing for children," Gusciora said.

During a news conference on the steps of City Hall, the mayor said one main challenge has been a language barrier with parents who may not understand the potential danger caused by lead poisoning. 

Sean Jackson, CEO of Isles, Inc., a local advocacy group in Trenton, said lead poisoning can affect a child's future.

"We know that children who are exposed to lead have a 30% greater likelihood of failing math and reading by third grade. We know they're seven times more likely to drop out of high school," Jackson said.

"Lead poisoning is irreversible, so we are trying to do all that we can before we get to that point," said Trenton Health Department Officer Yvette Graffie-Cooper.

Trenton is an old industrial city that was home to many pottery factories in the early 1900s. Over the years, officials said, elevated levels of lead have also been found in homes and several area parks.

Children are the most at risk, and the city is now offering free cleaning supplies and home assessments as an incentive to get children tested.

"This initiative takes us out of our school locations, out of our city locations and straight into homes," said James Earle, superintendent of Trenton Public Schools.

Right now, the city's main concern is everyone at the Grant School, but the mayor also wants to focus on getting students at other schools tested as well.

The goal is to have health officers target five to six streets in each ward of the city every week.

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