October 5, 2016

By Scott Taylor

Lewiston Sun-Journal

LEWISTON — Tough new lead safety rules call for more childhood blood testing, modification and fines for lead-tainted properties that don’t get fixed, backers of the new rules said Wednesday.


It’s all part of a state effort to curb lead poisoning.


“It is completely preventable, isn’t it?” State Sen. Amy Volk, R-Scarborough, said at a news conference at Central Maine Medical Center. “Our goal here in the state of Maine should absolutely be the eradication of any lead-contaminated building that a child might ever find themselves poisoned by.”


A group of local health officials, affordable housing advocates and government officials gathered in a Central Maine Medical Center conference room to introduce the rules and programs designed to make lead poisoning a thing of the past.


“It’s far too easy for legislators to reduce the problems facing the state simply to dollars and cents,” said state Rep. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston. “In order to stay focused on what is important and to get our housing priorities straight, we must put faces on these numbers and remember that these dollars and cents represent real living and breathing people.”


Legislators approved the measure in June 2015, but it became fully effective in September.


The new law lowers the trigger for state health department action on lead-tainted properties. The new rule for state intervention is set at 5 micrograms of lead per deciliter in a child’s blood.


Before, state programs were triggered by blood-lead levels of 15 micrograms per deciliter. That’s much too high, according to local pediatrician Dr. David Baker of Central Maine Medical Center.


“No amount of lead is safe for the human body, especially for the developing brains and nervous systems of infants and toddlers,” Baker said. “Lead is a poisonous metal that is ever present and all around us.”


Under the new rules, Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention consultants will be sent to the child’s home to look for lead hazards and figure out how to fix the problem when the level of lead in a child’s blood is at the 5-microgram level.


The new law also lets state health officials fine landlords up to $500 per day if they refuse to fix the issues.


Greg Payne, director of the Maine Affordable Housing Coalition, is encouraging Maine parents to have their children tested. Currently, only young children who receive MaineCare are routinely tested.


Healthy Androscoggin Executive Director Erin Guay said her group offers help to landlords and parents needing to clean up lead contamination.


“It’s important for folks to know that the burden for tackling this issue is not solely on landlords and parents,” Guay said. “I don’t want parents and landlords to feel alone in this. There are coalitions of partners working to support you here in L-A and statewide.”


Guay said her group provides education and grants to fix problems. Parents can go to the cities of Lewiston and Auburn, local hospitals, Healthy Androscoggin, Community Concepts and others for help.


Lewiston has a $3 million grant for landlords to help pay for lead testing and mitigation. That money can be used to replace exterior siding and windows and for paint to encapsulate lead on walls.


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