MAINE BECOMES FIRST STATE IN NATION TO APPROVE AND IMPLEMENT CHILDHOOD LEAD POISONING INTERVENTION PROGRAM AT FEDERALLY RECOMMENDED STANDARD
In recent days Maine has taken significant steps forward and has assumed a leadership role in addressing the dangers of childhood lead poisoning, by moving to full implementation of a landmark law approved by the Legislature in June of 2015.
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.
Going forward 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 will send out 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 will determine what actions are needed in order to safely effectuate its removal and ensure that the child does not suffer further exposure.
While other jurisdictions across the country are currently considering similar measures, Maine is the first state in the nation to implement such a law.
The U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development – following strong advocacy by Maine Senator Susan Collins – has recently proposed new rules that would bring all federally-assisted housing in the nation to the same recommended threshold for intervention that Maine has now adopted.
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.
The economic impact of childhood lead poisoning on Maine’s economy has been estimated to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars, and also drives up special education spending for local communities. Studies have concluded that affected children in Maine can expect to earn, in the aggregate, significantly less throughout their lifetimes as a result of the cognitive and neurological deficits caused by their exposure to lead.
Lead-based paint and lead contaminated dust are still the most hazardous sources of lead for U.S. children. While lead-based paints were banned for use in housing in 1978, homes built before then are likely to contain some lead-based paint. Chipping and dust created by the deterioration of this paint then creates significant hazards for small children because they tend to put their hands or other objects, which may be contaminated with lead dust, into their mouths.
During the most recently completed session of the Maine Legislature, the Maine Affordable Housing Coalition (MAHC) and its allies in the housing and public health arenas proposed to align the state’s lead poisoning intervention protocol with federally recommended standards. A bipartisan coalition of state legislators led by Senator Amy Volk (R-Scarborough) and Rep. Peggy Rotundo (D-Lewiston) succeeded in shepherding the proposal into law, which took effect on July 1, 2015.
In order to successfully implement the new law, the state had to draft and approve new regulations as well as hire the necessary staff and contractors; this process was undertaken over the past year and was completed in recent days.
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.
The measure is expected to trigger timely intervention on behalf of over 500 Maine children each year who would otherwise not have been identified as lead poisoned under prior state law.
Over the coming months, MAHC will be working to encourage Maine parents to have their children tested for lead poisoning, especially at their one-year and two-year well visits. Unlike other states, Maine does not require all young children to be tested for lead; only children who receive MaineCare and those identified by their doctor as being at particular risk are tested. The sooner that parents and state officials are made aware that a child has been poisoned and can remove the child from that environment, the better off that child will be.
MAHC will also be encouraging landlords to be proactive in addressing any lead hazards that may exist in their housing units. Doing so not only helps to keep their tenants healthier, but can also help to avoid the much more costly lead abatement order that could follow the discovery that a poisoned child is living in one of their apartments.
Maine’s groundbreaking new law was funded through the Fund for Healthy Maine, which was created by the Maine Legislature in 1999 to receive and disburse Maine’s annual tobacco settlement payments. Funding for implementation of the law (estimated to cost approximately $1m/year) must be renewed every two years as part of the state’s ongoing biennial budget process.
MAHC is grateful to Senator Volk, Representative Rotundo and the rest of the bipartisan coalition of legislators who worked to pass and implement this new lead poisoning intervention law, making Maine a healthier place for our children to grow: Senator Nate Libby (D – Lewiston), Senator Eric Brakey (R – Auburn), Representative Drew Gattine (D –Westbrook), Representative Jared Golden (D – Lewiston), Representative Karen Vachon (R – Scarborough), Representative Linda Sanborn (D – Gorham) and Representative Peter Stuckey (D – Portland).