Lawmakers look into state's aging water infrastructure

Ben Finley, Associated Press

TRENTON - A package of bills aimed at reducing lead poisoning in children has cleared a state Assembly panel but not without concerns from some lawmakers and the beverage industry.

One of the bills passed Monday by the Environment Committee would require lead testing in all schools, a proposal made after Newark found lead in the water of half its public school buildings last month.

Two other measures would help fund efforts to remove lead pipes and other infrastructure that leak lead into drinking water.

One those bills would fund such measures through a new recycling program that requires a deposit on bottles and cans. Seventy-five percent of unclaimed deposits would go toward lead reclamation.

The proposals now move to the full Assembly for consideration.

Several community and environmental groups praised the efforts after testifying about the dangers of lead, which can cause severe developmental problems in children.

Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, a Democrat from Englewood who is sponsoring the recycling bill, said New Jersey is "facing a potential crisis."

But business leaders expressed concerns that the recycling program would hurt breweries and distributors while failing to provide significant funds for lead abatement efforts.

"You will only raise money for lead reclamation if people don't comply (with the recycling program)," Michael Halfacre, executive director of the Beer Wholesalers' Association of New Jersey, told the committee.

Assemblyman Scott Rumana, a Republican from Wayne, added that the program would take money from towns that depend on recycling revenue.

L. Grace Spencer, the committee's chair and a Democrat from Newark, said she understood such concerns. But she said the bills push a needed conversation about New Jersey's lead problem to the Assembly floor and to the governor.

"This bill is raising questions that demand answers," she said of the recycling program bill.