Category Archives: Health

From Lead to Leaks: Problems Continue With Trenton’s Water

By Annette Espinoza, Jared Kofsky & Joshua Trifari

How is lead contamination impacting Trenton residents? Over a year after high levels of lead were found in the water of most of the capital’s public schools, the answer to that question remains unclear.

In recent years, there have been widespread concerns across the United States with aging infrastructure, particularly in regards to lead levels in the water supply systems and paint in some of the nation’s metropolitan areas. In 2014, over 100,000 residents of Flint, Michigan, a small city that like Trenton, was once a riverside industrial powerhouse, were discovered to have been exposed to excessive levels of lead.

“This is an issue that has been on people’s radars for decades,” Jane Rosenblatt, a program manager at Downtown Trenton-based New Jersey Future, told The Wall in the spring. However, as a result of the recent revelations, ”people are starting to pay attention to some of the daily impacts of our antiquated water infrastructure, so we’re likely to see something happening in the coming years as far as investments,” she explained.

In the years that followed, New Jersey schools began to test their drinking water for high lead levels, and the results in some districts shocked many parents. In the state’s largest city, dozens of schools were found to have elevated levels of lead, prompting Newark students to be forced to drink from bottled water.

A few weeks later, according to The Trentonian, Trenton Water Works General Superintendent Joseph McIntyre testified that “we don’t have a lead issue” in Trenton, and that “we’ve never had a leadbased problem here in the water.”

However, in October 2016, it was revealed that in 20 of Trenton’s older school buildings, including Daylight/Twilight Alternative High School and Grant Elementary School, there were levels of lead in the water that were above the US Environmental Protection Agency’s recommended guidelines.

The extent of the problem in New Jersey’s cities today is quite unclear. Rosenblatt stated some cities contain water mains “that can date back to the Civil War,” and that part of the reason why many recent discoveries of water contamination have been in cities is because ”urban centers are where some of our oldest infrastructure is.”

In response to these crises, several New Jersey organizations and agencies are calling for improvements.

Rosenblatt is one of the leaders of Jersey Water Works, a 300-member statewide organization dedicated to upgrading New Jersey’s wastewater, drinking water, and stormwater infrastructure. Members range from local organizations like Isles to engineering films, according to Rosenblatt, who stated that ultimate goal is “investing in cost-effective sustainable solutions that benefit the communities served by these systems.”

Jersey Water Works has partnered with New Jersey Urban Mayors Association to develop policy recommendations as to how to best update water infrastructure.

Meanwhile, Environment New Jersey is also seeking similar improvements to prevent future crises. Doug O’Malley, the organization’s director, stated that “obviously, most people can’t shell out the thousands of dollars that you can use to replace it, but a lot of what we want to do is start up with testing to be able to expose the extent of the problem and then use long-term state funding to try to ultimately replace our pipes.” 

O’Malley cited Madison, Wisconsin and Seattle, Washington as examples of places that are currently “getting this right.”

Yet what actions are being taken right now to keep residents safe in Trenton, and should residents continue to trust that their tap water is reliable?

A hydrologist in the United States Geological Survey’s New Jersey Water Science Center who asked not to be identified told The Wall that “the USGS hasn’t collected any samples of water quality from the Trenton water system that I know of,” and that he does not know whether or not there is significant lead in the city’s water.

“Most, if not all, drinking water in Trenton comes from the Delaware River and does not have detectable lead concentrations when it enters, much less leaves, the water treatment plant on Route 29,” the hydrologist stated, adding that “any lead in water in Trenton is likely derived from the municipal (under-the street) pipes and/or building plumbing.”

This means that it is largely up to the individual building or shelter to test whether their water is safe to drink and that organizations should replace old copper pipes or lead pipes with new lead-free solder copper pipes while covering or removing lead paint.

So what can you do for now to see if your water is safe to drink? In order to find contaminants, the hydrologist and Rosenblatt recommended that you run the water for at least 45 seconds to a few minutes before drinking it. If you notice discolored water, you should advise water or building officials.

However, some New Jersey leaders feel that tackling the lead in the water is just the beginning of the solution to improving the state’s infrastructure. “

Yes we have to address the lead in our pipes, and that’s obviously a concern, but we want a more comprehensive approach to infrastructure investment than that,” said Dan Fatton of the Ewing Township-based NJ Work Environment Council and the recently established Jersey Renews environmental campaign. “We know that we have to invest big money into our pipes underground but also in the things that we see above ground like sidewalks and schools and other buildings,” he added.

The need for investment in infrastructure in New Jersey’s capital became evident on May 6, when a water main break caused another flood, this time in the Wilbur Section. One unexpected consequence of the damage caused by the incident was displacement for residents in the community.

As The Trentonian reported, the Fleming family was forced to leave their residence following the hurricane-like flooding, as were other homeowners and renters in the area. According to Julie Janis of the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen, many clients of hers who are experiencing homelessness were previously renters, but were forced to leave the properties that they called home following unsafe living conditions inside, such as pipe bursts and structural damage.

Like the individuals behind Jersey Renews, New Jersey’s non-profit organizations are building up to improve the environment of cities like Trenton, a goal that, according to Fatton, “is incredibly ambitious but eminently doable.” However, considering the crisis of elevated lead levels and other issues facing cities across the state and the country right now, the question is, will that be enough?

This story will continue to be updated as the conditions of Trenton’s water supply change.

Photo by Jared Kofsky

“Garden State” Capital: Lacking Accessibility To Healthy Food

By Alana Magro

Obesity means much more than simply being overweight. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) confirms that more than two in three adults are considered overweight or obese. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), 12.7 million children between two and nineteen years old are obese. The NIH states that obesity in children has tripled over the past thirty years. The national average for childhood obesity (between the ages of two and five) is 21 percent. The average of childhood obesity in Trenton is 49 percent. The gravity of the issue is growing, as food deserts in communities like Trenton work to exacerbate the issue. And while food deserts put all residents at risk, they can be extremely harmful for children in particular. They play a large role in the rising rates of obesity in the United States. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) found that when compared to Camden, New Brunswick, Newark, and Vineland, Trenton consistently showed the highest obesity rates. Researchers discovered that the majority of children in this city do not comply with daily recommended serving sizes (for fruits and vegetables); instead they resort to fast food. The issue is aggravated by the limited number of existing grocery stores (in comparison to small convenience stores); this leaves very few options for healthy eating. The New Jersey Childhood Obesity Study supports this idea and explains that in areas with limited access to retail grocery stores and supermarket chains, the majority of children’s purchases are unhealthy meals and snacks from smaller stores. At these stores, the few healthy foods that are available are extremely over-priced. According to RWJF, low-income families, which make up 40 percent of Trenton’s population, lack By Alana Magro

transportation to grocery stores. The Trenton Health Team found that the city would have to triple the number of grocery stores in the city in order to properly provide its residents with nutritional food. Not only are these supermarkets out of reach, but the healthy food is simply too expensive for families in the area to purchase. And while we are beginning to understand how widespread the issue is and whom it is affecting, the gravity of the health risks it poses is much more complex. Although there is a long list of risks associated with obesity, the

following are only a few. The NIH warns the public that obesity leads to coronary heart disease (CHD), but that it also leads to heart failure. When someone has a high BMI, their chances of having a stroke increase significantly. Type 2 diabetes is another health risk connected to obesity; according to the Obesity Action Coalition (OAC), the disease is three to seven times more likely to appear in those who are obese. Living in a food desert limits accessibility to healthier foods dramatically, which in turn jeopardizes the health and well-being of children and adults.

The Trenton Area Soup Kitchen (TASK) is one of many organizations working to combat this issue in the Trenton community. Jaime Parker, manager of programs at TASK, commented on the support and services that TASK provides its patrons, “There are folks who come here for Christmas, they come here for Thanksgiving…we try to offer wrap around services that feed the body as well as the mind and the spirit.” The issue of food deserts has only grown over the years. The main obstacle for a lot of families living in these areas is transportation. “A majority of the individuals who come to TASK do not have cars that can easily take them to shop for groceries,” said Parker. “Not having adequate transportation is a big problem.” When talking more specifically about foods that are hard to access, Parker explained: “A lot of time, cheaper food is canned. It’s high in sodium, preservatives, and it’s not as healthy as the fresh food, which usually costs more money. If you go to McDonald’s you can get fries off the dollar menu but what healthy food can you buy for a dollar?” No individual, let alone child, should have to think about where their next meal will come from, or whether it will exist at all. They should not have to spend their lives battling serious illnesses that result from an unbalanced diet. Luckily, TASK is one of the hundreds of organizations working to make sure this isn’t the case.

Trenton Area Soup Kitchen 72 Escher Street, Trenton NJ Phone: (609) 695-5456

“Don’t Eat That!”

By Carlos Duarte-Molina and Derek Arnolds

Children living in food deserts are forced to make unhealthy food choices, resulting in misbehavior in class and health decline. One would not think that the capital of New Jersey, the home of the governor of the state, is a food desert.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, a food desert is “urban neighborhoods and rural towns without ready access to fresh, healthy and affordable foods.”

The reason why Trenton is considered a food desert is because of there are only two supermarkets in the whole city. This is what leads to the locals having less access to healthy and nutritious food which shows up on their physical and mental behavior.

According to the National Education Association, missing meals and experiencing hunger impairs children’s development and achievement. Well Trenton’s education level just happens to be low, in fact, it is one of the lowest ones in the state of New Jersey.

Out of individuals who are 25 years old or older, who attended school in Trenton, 30 percent did not graduate high school. With Trenton having plenty of low income areas, this comes with poor performance in education as kids have other things to worry about, such as, what will their next meal be?

French Country Rooster by KC
French Country Rooster by KC

Did you know that according to the Community Health Needs Assessment Report of July 2013, nearly half of the children of Trenton are considered obese due to the lack of access to healthy foods? This is caused by a food desert. Food deserts are affecting the children of the Trenton area in terms of behavior, academic performance, and overall health.

In the article The Real Problem With Lunch, by Bettina Elias Siegel, it is pointed out that while in France, the average school lunch costs about $7, in the United States, it is $3. This difference in price causes a lack in quality nutrition that growing children need.

According to the National Education Foundation, meat from fast food restaurants is safer than the meat you will find in a school lunch. The meat that is served at a fast food restaurant is checked five to 10 times more often for bacteria than what the USDA requires. The meat that does not pass inspection is sent to schools for school lunch. The regulations for schools and retailers are so different that the same plant that produced ground beef that was recalled for salmonella at retailers still shipped ground beef that was processed during that outbreak to schools.

Besides just meat, some schools do not even have a safe kitchen. USA Today discovered that over 8,500 schools all over America did not have their kitchens inspected in 2008. On top of that, 18,000 schools did not complete the mandatory twice a year inspections. So instead of opting for a cheap $3 lunch for your child, provide them with a healthy lunch full of nutrition from home.

All across the country, schools are loaded with vending machines to fulfill everyone’s sweet tooth. Although eating candy and other unhealthy foods are okay to have every once in awhile, having easier access to healthier foods should be a priority in schools.

When kids walk into the lunchroom, the first thing they lay their eyes upon are the junk food. Although that Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup may be tempting, children should think twice before eating unhealthy foods. Simple carbohydrates in candy stimulate brain regions associated with reward. This causes the craving children have for wanting more sweets rather than healthy foods. Also, refined sugars that are in candy, sodas and bread all reach the bloodstream quickly. This causes what is known as a “sugar high.” This unwanted behavior creates an inability for children to pay attention. So instead of blaming children’s actions for poor choices in food, we should educate them or restrict their access to sweets.

A total of about 2.4 million houses are said to be sitting on a food desert. According to the U.S Department of Agriculture, counties with a high percentage of house sitting on a food desert have a higher percentage of adults with obesity than counties with a lesser percentage of houses sitting in a food desert which means that there is a direct correlation between food deserts and obesity.

In an interview with an anonymous worker from the Eastern Service Workers Association, he said, “There is actually scientific theory that explains failure to thrive and it is proven that malnourishment affects children’s development. It is proven that malnourishment builds stress which wears down ability to concentrate.”

As a non-profit worker for the community of Trenton, he has an understanding of the situation in the area.

“Children’s nutrition depends on their family situation,” he said.

When asked about whether he believed that the situation in Trenton was improving regarding food desserts, he answered, “No. By the government’s definition 27 percent of the people in Trenton are in poverty and over 50 percent of those in poverty in Trenton do not qualify for food stamps.”

After interviewing this man with experience with was is going on in Trenton, then it is safe to draw the connections between the lack of nutrients in children and educational performance.

The food deserts in the Trenton area are affecting the educational development of children and the fact that there are only two supermarkets in the city does not help the situation. Children part of a low income family in Trenton are the ones that tend to suffer by the lack of a nearby supermarket. This, eventually, shows up on their educational performance. It is hard not to understand why such relation would make sense, just think about what it would be like if you had to wonder if you were going to eat tonight on top of thinking about your homework. The thought of such may make you wish that this was not your situation; however, this is the reality for many kids in Trenton.

With many empty buildings and lots in the city, Trenton had plenty of space for supermarkets to move in and yet, we do not see that happening. If there is going to be a change, then it should start with them since they are the ones who are responsible for the distribution of food and Trenton could us a lot of it.

Mental And Physical Effect Of Food Insecurity

By Odalys Quito and Saloni Shah

Food insecurity is the lack of food access based on financial and other resources. Being in a food desert and experiencing food insecurity are two different situations, but there are programs that offer help. Although, programs may help with obtaining food for those who are struggling, the consequences of food insecurity can be long term. The consequences not only affect adults, but children as well. Those consequences can lead to long term effects unless helped within time.

A functioning society is one which, as the world states, functions as a result of having several interrelated parts working together. In such a society, one must be able to achieve basic requirements. Experiencing hunger is an unfortunate situation that many individuals are experiencing throughout the city of Trenton and Mercer County in New Jersey.

The food insecurity level in New Jersey was 12.7 percent overall and 19 percent for children. According to New Jersey Anti-hunger Coalition (NJHAC), there 394,240 children were living in food insecure households. It affects the population negatively because those affected will function on an unhealthy diet.  

Lia Pitz, the Program Director of Advocacy, set goals and their sole mission is to reach out to individuals to educate them about hunger in New Jersey. She is part of a team that represents NJHAC. NJHAC is program that works to end hunger in New Jersey through advocacy, activism and education.

“I have had the pleasure to meet some wonderful people as the program’s advocate,” said Pitz.  “I’ve also seen and heard of the effects that food insecurity can and will have on people.”

Splashy Flowers by Paul Norris
Splashy Flowers by Paul Norris

NJHAC has been working hard since 1980 to educate the public about the effects of hunger and what can be done to help relieve hunger in the communities. In Trenton, the program is helping schools by providing them with free breakfast and lunches.

“Children are the future, but many will not thrive if they are not being fed,” her voice saddened a little. “There is a correlation between the behavior of children, hunger and poverty. They are more likely to act out in school when living in a food insecurity household.”

Also, the program is in partnership with Rutgers University, in order to expand its message through students.

“I love this program for what it is trying to accomplish,” said Pitz. “Yes, we do work in Trenton. We’re affiliated with Trenton Area Soup Kitchen. What we do is advocate those living in food insecurity of what the solutions are. They need to know that there is hope and that there are programs to help.”

The children of Trenton are experiencing hunger, which is affecting their school work and the adults will start to experience the consequences when working. Studies have shown that teenagers, between the ages of 13-18, will be twice as likely to have emotional problems or to instigate problems. This is due to the child experiencing stress because they do not know where their next meal will come, which, in turn, affects them. Proper diet is not only beneficial for better physical health, but for mental as well. Getting the proper nutrients in the body will excel the minds of many upcoming generations.

On the other hand, the parents experience stress, because they do not have the money to invest into proper food for their family. Essentially when given the choice to invest in $10 worth of fries and burgers versus $10 worth of veggies that barely feeds one person, many tend to choose something that is filling instead of looking at the labels for nutrition benefits. It’s a vicious cycle that will not be stopped unless help is sought.

Unfortunately, studies have shown that mental problems in teenager has increased due to living in a food insecurity household. A study by Elservier stated, “The study found that a one standard deviation increase in food insecurity was associated with a 14 percent increased odds of past-year mental disorder among adolescents, even after controlling for poverty and numerous other indicators of socioeconomic status.”

Evidence for exposure to many vegetables and fruits in growing children has not been found since money is an issue. Fortunately, there are programs that offer aid, such as Mercer Street Friends.

Mercer Street Friends is multi-faceted human service agency located on Mercer Street. The agency’s purpose is to help communities and families out of poverty. The program was founded in 1958 when a few individuals were worried about Trenton’s increase of poverty and the impact it would have on it’s residents. They will help those living in poverty or with food insecurity by providing resources, food and aid.

Hunger is branched off from poverty or lack of finance and an article written by Nicholas Kristof, an op-ed columnist who speaks about the progress of poverty. He begins the article in words of Reagan, “We fought war on poverty, and poverty won.”

Then Kristof states that children should be a priority when saving people from poverty. Children should be helped first because the consequences of poverty will lead to crime, unemployment and lack of education. He further explains that a child’s mental health will also be affected, due the stress that poverty puts on children and on their parents. Their performance in school and in life will be impaired due to mental health. Kristof looks down upon our nation and how it could have let its children experience poverty for 50 years.

Children and their parents are the ones who will be affected the most. Children are the future and should be the first to be aided in. Families should not be ashamed to admit that they are living in food insecurity and reach out. Programs and agency are waiting to assist the people in need and will welcome anyone with open arms.

Trentonians Facing Food Insecurities

By Mark Scott

Food deserts are a national problem. Food deserts are town or cities that have little to no resources to have a healthy meal.

According to an article posted on Trenton250, there are only three supermarkets in Trenton that is serving the community.

With food deserts comes food insecurities. Food insecurities has a broader effect than most think. Families go hungry and students struggle to succeed in the class room. With all the research and interviews, it seems as if the only way to combat the struggles of food insecurities are to open more programs for families to get the necessary nutrients that are needed, as well as for the government to provide more funding to the families that need it the most.

Even in the Garden State of New Jersey families are facing food insecurities, whereby many parents have to choose between food and bills. Most have to choose bills in order to keep a roof over their head.

According to New Jersey Partnership for Healthy Kids, 17 percent of families in Trenton experience food insecurity on a daily bases. Food insecurities are points in time when one struggles to have an adequate amount of food. Most parents tend to allow their children to eat while they go hungry. Bills such as rent, PSE&G and water bills tend to take up most of the spending limit within the average household in Trenton.

In a recent interview with an anonymous mother that lives in Trenton, she a time in her past when she had face faced food insecurities.

“There were times when I would go hungry in order to feed my kids,” she said. “I only did it so they can better focus on school, and won’t have to worry about their tummies growling.”

When asked about the effects of food insecurities on her children’s performance in school, she said, “It’s hard for anyone to focus when you’re hungry. So in terms of their performance, it’s at an average rate.”

So exactly how do food insecurities affect students’ performance?

A study by NEA Healthy Features states, “We know that hungry children can’t learn. They feel sick, get distracted and start to fall behind.”

Mr. Carpenter a teacher at Trenton High West stated, “It’s hard for these students to focus on school work when their stomachs hurt.”

But there are small steps that are being taken to combat this problem. People tend to depend on the School Morning Breakfast program founded by the USDA in 1966 — which comes with the downfall of a first come first served basis.

Mother And Child by Samantha Rivera
Mother And Child by Samantha Rivera

The school system is becoming somewhat of a contradiction in which they teach nutrition, but yet fail to serve it. Students come from a home where they can only get what they can afford and enter into the schools and fail to receive the nutrition that is missing at home. Because of the lack of nutrition, the success of students in the Trenton Public School system tend to lose focus on the topics at hand.

There are other programs that play the same part as the school breakfast program. Some of these programs are the Mercer Street Friends Center, the Healthy Corner Store Initiative and the Farmer’s Market. The Farmer’s Market in Trenton, located at 960 Spruce St, allows for people to come and buy healthy home grown fruits, vegetables and other essential nutritious foods. While Mercer Street Friends Center runs a food bank in which they serve hundreds if not thousands of people with canned goods and other foods needed to have a balanced meal. Small programs like these allow those who lack the proper funds to keep themselves as well as their students fed.

Later on in the interview with the mother, she said, “My children would come home and explain to me that they couldn’t focus because they were hungry. As a parent, something like that hurts.”

When asked what could be done, she went to say that more more government funding would help.

Programs, like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, have recently undergone significant cuts to the program, which require tighter restrictions on prospective applicants, but will also lead to reduced benefits for some of the 900,000 people who are already enrolled in SNAP in New Jersey.

“You can’t expect for a family to live off of $14 a month,” she said.

Even though recent cutbacks left this single mother with just $14 a month, some receive less. The governmental cutbacks just don’t effect the food stamps portion, but other additives that used to be include in SNAP, such as heating assistance.

When my own mother applied for food stamps and heating assistance, it was made clear that there was a waiting list and that it could take months if not years before she received a reply. New Jersey is one of the states that is financially unequal between classes in terms of funding. Between the reconstruction of the Jersey Shore and other plans that are in place to increase the net income of New Jersey, that leaves little to no funds for the people who desperately need it.

In an interview with Andrew Holt, a student currently enrolled at The College of New Jersey who was a student from Trenton, stated, “It’s frustrating to see people who need the funds rejected because it’s being put elsewhere. We need rules. Ones that allow the helpless to be helped first and then ration out the rest to those who don’t need it.”

With only three true supermarkets and bodegas taking up 29 percent of the grocery industry, exactly how can we change the status of the Trentonians facing food insecurities?

The answer to that is to give more funding to those who need it the most for food assistance, along with the opening of more food banks, and the true understanding of the problem at hand. Without all three things in the works, one can never fully combat food desert and the troubles that come with it. These three solutions can not only help out for the betterment of Trentonians, but also for those who face the same kind of food insecurities outside of Mercer County.