Solving Maine’s lead poisoning problem

By: Kate Rogers, News Editor

Maine congressman, Jared Golden, proposed a billion-dollar effort to remove lead paint everywhere in the country. The act is called Golden’s Lead-Free Future.

Lead poisoning is preventable, yet it is one of the major environmental health threats for children in Maine. Robert Long, the Communications Director for the Maine Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention, says that it is too early to say much about the proposal, but that any efforts to reduce lead poisoning in Maine are good.

“The Maine CDC has made steady progress in recent years, so additional resources would help us keep the needle moving in the right direction,” Long said.

Exposure to lead causes brain damage that can create irreparable learning and behavioral problems. Lead poisoning in Maine is primarily a consequence of exposure to dust from lead paint in old Maine homes. Children between the ages of nine months and three years are at the greatest risk due to crawling and play behavior with frequent hand-to-mouth activities. 87% of children live in housing built before 1950. Of that percentage, 79% of children live in housing with identifiable lead paint hazards. While lead paint was banned in the 1970s, houses from before 1950 have posed the greatest risk according to the CDC’s research.

“Lead poisoning robs thousands of Maine kids of a healthy life and it costs our communities billions of dollars they desperately need,” said Congressman Golden in the September 19 press release. “Yet our government has been content with the status quo that waits to remove lead from homes until after a child has been poisoned.”

According to Andrew Smith, a state toxicologist for the MCDC, making a single apartment unit safe can cost upwards of ten thousand dollars. While there are aid programs in place for homeowners who can’t afford to fix the problems themselves, these are largely from independent organizations and

Free lead dust tests are available to families with children at risk of lead poisoning to identify homes with lead‐based substances before children are poisoned. According to the report, there are two major ways the Department makes these preventative lead dust tests available to families: through mass media activities, including an annual targeted mailing to all Maine families with one‐year‐old children, and through a partnership with the Department’s Home Visiting Program. If parents have young children and live in pre-1950 housing, they can reach out to the MCDC for assistance. The ultimate goal is to prevent lead poisoning before it happens.

In 2017, over 300 children were newly identified as lead poisoned. However, the numbers have been steadily going down due to significant efforts. According to Smith, the average blood lead level of children in the 1970s was 15 µg/dL because there was lead in gasoline. “That was probably my level,” Smith said. Now, according to a report put out by the MCDC and Prevention Maine Department of Health and Human Services in January of this year, average levels in children aged 1-5 are down to 3.5 µg/dL. There is no safe level of lead in a child’s blood but these are significant improvements.

According to the Maine Center for Disease Control, testing for lead levels in children ages one to two is far from being met. Through the LPPF, the Department will provide $35,000 in annual funding to community outreach and education about lead poisoning in the five highest-risk areas: Augusta/Gardiner, Bangor, Biddeford/Saco, Lewiston/Auburn and Portland/Westbrook.

Over the coming year, the Department will determine whether to expand its community‐based approach to the communities of Waterville and Skowhegan, as well as to reinstate funding to Sanford, which was previously funded as a high‐risk area.

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