State Lawmakers and Housing Advocates Celebrate First Year Success of Groundbreaking New Lead Poisoning Law

Contact:
Greg Payne
Maine Affordable Housing Coalition
(207)756-0751

PORTLAND – A bipartisan coalition of state lawmakers, including Senator Amy Volk (R-Scarborough) and Representative Jared Golden (D- Lewiston), joined housing advocates in celebrating the first-year success of a landmark new state law aimed at better addressing childhood lead poisoning in Maine.

The new law, which brought Maine’s lead poisoning intervention protocol into alignment with federal recommendations, was approved by the Legislature in June of 2015. It became fully effective in September 2016 following a regulatory approval process.

The Maine Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported that in the first year of implementation of the law, from September 2016 to September 2017, 386 additional children statewide were identified as lead poisoned and provided with follow-up intervention measures who otherwise would not have been considered lead poisoned under the previous standard:

Blood Lead Category

(ug/dL)

Number Confirmed eBLLs by blood lead level range Number of Building Inspections Ordered Number of Inspections Completed
5 – <15 386 309 298
≥15 34 30 30

Maine was the first state in the country to implement such a law. New Jersey adopted a comparable measure shortly after Maine did, and other states, including New Hampshire, are currently considering similar proposals.

Prior to passage of the new law, Maine’s lead poisoning intervention protocol was not triggered until a child’s blood lead level reached 15 micrograms per deciliter (µg/dL) or higher – fully three times higher than the reference level at which the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that public health actions be initiated.

Under the new law, whenever a child’s blood lead level is found to be above 5 µg/dL, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention sends a contracted environmental consultant to determine whether lead hazards are present in the child’s home. If such a hazard is found to be present, CDC staff determines what actions are needed in order to safely effectuate its removal and ensure that the child does not suffer further exposure.

“I’m gratified to know that this new law is meeting its intended goal of helping children and families detect lead issues that otherwise would have flown under the radar, but there is so much more that needs to be done,” said Senator Amy Volk. “While we are still learning about the dangers of lead, we know that no amount of lead exposure is safe for our children. It breaks my heart that any child, let alone children whose families already face numerous challenges, are being impacted by lead daily.”

“It is so important that this new law is working to identify lead poisoned children, but for me it only demonstrates how critical it is that we do more as a state to remove lead hazards so that lead poisoning never happens to kids in the first place,” said Representative Jared Golden. “This is severely damaging young lives and it’s costing our communities millions. That’s why we need to commit ourselves to lead abatement with a greater sense of urgency.”

Greg Payne, director of the Maine Affordable Housing Coalition, praised state lawmakers and health officials for the forward progress made in addressing childhood lead poisoning. “We know that lead poisoning causes significant, irreversible harm to our children and negatively impacts their ability to learn. The fact that state legislators came together across partisan lines and acted to better protect Maine families, as well as reduce long-term special education costs in our schools, represents an important step forward for Maine’s public health system,” Payne said.

The latest science and research has determined that there is no safe blood lead level in children; even low levels of lead in blood have been shown to affect IQ, ability to pay attention, and academic achievement. A key 2013 study from the Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics found lower reading readiness among children with blood lead levels between 5-9 µg/dL. In fact, the most significant rate of decrease in IQ points occurs in children whose blood levels are between 5-9 µg/dL.

Lead poisoning can also lead to a wide variety of serious health problems in kids, including decreased bone and muscle growth, poor muscle coordination, damage to the nervous system and kidneys, and diminished hearing. Once inflicted, the effects of lead exposure cannot be corrected.

In addition to lowering the intervention threshold to 5 µg/dL, the new law provides state officials with the ability to levy civil fines of up to $500 per day on landlords who refuse to abide by lead abatement orders. Prior to the bill’s passage, fines could only be imposed through the court system, which is often extremely slow-moving and difficult to navigate.

In addition to Senator Volk and Representative Golden, the bipartisan coalition of legislators who worked to pass the new law includes Senator Nate Libby (D – Lewiston), Representative Drew Gattine (D –Westbrook) and Representative Karen Vachon (R – Scarborough).

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