March 20, 2019
Research released today by the Maine Affordable Housing Coalition reveals that Maine has the lowest screening rate for childhood lead poisoning in New England, and is the only state in the region that has not enacted a universal lead screening law. The research concludes that in addition to the nearly 1,800 Maine children identified as lead poisoned over the past five years, another 853 children have likely been poisoned but did not receive any intervention because they were not screened.
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. It can also lead to a wide variety of serious health problems in children, 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 reversed.
Maine children are at a high risk of lead poisoning because, like every other New England state, our housing stock is among the oldest in the country. Exposure to lead paint in homes built before 1978 is how most kids are poisoned, which is why every state in New England – except Maine – has adopted universal screening laws that require children to be tested for lead at their one- and two-year old well visits.
Between 2013-2017, 1,782 Maine children were identified as lead poisoned, but the actual number of poisoned children is likely to be significantly higher because only those kids who receive a test can be identified, and Maine is testing children at a lower rate than every other state in the region.
Lead poisoning carries enormous costs, both to the children and families personally affected and to communities at large. Researchers estimate an average loss of lifetime earnings of $723,000 per poisoned child, which aggregates to about $1.9 billion for the approximately 2,600 children confirmed or estimated to have been lead poisoned in Maine over the past 5 years. Research has also demonstrated conclusively that lead poisoning continues to cause increases in health care and special education costs for communities across the nation.
“We are very concerned that hundreds of Maine kids are at unnecessary risk of further harm from lead poisoning because of poor screening practices,” said Greg Payne, director of the Maine Affordable Housing Coalition. “Every Maine child deserves to be safe in their home, and we look forward to working with lawmakers and practitioners to better protect them.”
To better address childhood lead poisoning, universal screening legislation has been proposed at the state Legislature. Its lead sponsor is Senate Majority Leader Nate Libby.
“One of our most important jobs as legislators is to create policies that keep Mainers safe and healthy,” said Representative Kristen Cloutier, D-Lewiston, who has co-sponsored the bill. “It is entirely within our ability to eradicate the problem of lead poisoning and exposure to Maine’s children. So it’s our responsibility to do just that.”
The bill, LD 1116, will be heard by the Health & Human Services Committee next Tuesday, March 26th.