Maine’s Strong Lead Paint Protections Threatened by Budget Cuts

Photo: tab62/Shutterstock

Maine lawmakers recently took the vital and commendable step of adopting a more protective health standard for the level at which someone is deemed to have lead poisoning. The new standard makes Maine a leader in the fight against lead poisoning in America.

However, recently proposed cuts in the 2018–2019 Maine state budget would dramatically reduce funding for lead poisoning prevention efforts, and thus threaten the health and well-being of Maine’s citizens. The proposed cuts leave our children, who face the highest risks from lead poisoning, particularly vulnerable.

CLF supports Maine’s new lead standard, and is fighting the proposed budget cuts to lead poisoning prevention efforts.

Lead Poses Real and Immediate Dangers to Maine’s Children

Every year, more than 100 of Maine’s children are diagnosed with lead poisoning. This is a staggering statistic, partly because lead poisoning is a preventable disease, but also because the actual number of cases is likely far greater, since many children are never tested. According to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), lead is particularly harmful to children under the age of 6. Lead poisoning causes learning disabilities, behavioral problems, hearing damage, language or speech delays, and lower intelligence. It can thus have a serious and lifelong effect on a child’s growth and development, robbing our children of their full potential.

The most common source of lead poisoning is dust from lead paint, which is produced wherever lead paint rubs, such as door frames, windows, or floors. Other sources of lead poisoning include soil next to buildings that were painted with lead paint, and water that contains lead from brass, lead solder, or lead pipes.

Lead paint is most often found in homes built before 1950, though it also lingers in homes built before 1978, when lead paint was banned nationally. A 2015 investigation by the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting found that the most likely victim of lead poisoning in the state is a child living in a low-income community, because they are more likely to live in older, cheaper rental housing for which landlords have no financial incentive to remove the layers of lead paint. The investigation found that Lewiston and Auburn have three times the rate of childhood lead poisoning – often among Somali immigrants – as the rest of the state.

Maine Becomes a Leader in Lead Paint Protection Standards

Maine recently took steps to strengthen its Lead Poisoning Control Act by reducing the state’s blood lead level from 10 micrograms per deciliter to 5 micrograms. Under this new standard, if the amount of lead in a child’s blood equals or exceeds 5 micrograms, the Maine CDC initiates a response and provides a full lead investigation of the child’s home. Though many doctors consider any level of lead dangerous, the new standard is the same recommended by the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (CLF is urging lawmakers in New Hampshire to adopt the same standard.) The revisions also grant state health officials authority to levy fines for violations of the lead laws and allow the Maine CDC to hire additional lead prevention personnel.

The Maine Legislature Must Fully Fund Lead Poisoning Prevention

CLF recently testified at the State House in Augusta, opposing the current budget cuts, and urging lawmakers to fully fund the state’s lead poisoning prevention efforts. CLF pointed out that under the currently proposed funding, Maine’s public health officials will be unable to implement and enforce the recently updated protections in a manner that sufficiently safeguards the health and well-being of Maine’s citizens, in particular our children. During the hearings, one legislator suggested that the programs will be fully funded by a forthcoming “change packet.” Any such changes will not be known until June – in the meantime, CLF will closely track the state budget.

New Lead Legislation in Maine

The good news is that, even as current funding is under threat, several bills have been proposed in Maine’s current legislative session that seek to further protect Maine families from lead poisoning. One of those bills would require authorities to provide free home lead test kits to families who live in houses older than 1978 and have children. Another would add new testing requirements for lead and arsenic in school water. CLF supports these new bills and we will continue to update you on ways you can take action to support the protection of Maine’s children and families.

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