A bill aimed at preventing childhood lead poisoning and eliminating the estimated 550 cases of lead poisoning in Maine children each year was enacted by the Maine Legislature last Thursday without opposition in either chamber.
The bill was sponsored by Speaker of the House Glenn Cummings. Several years ago an optional lead test of Cummings’ then 18-month-old son revealed blood lead levels of 18 micrograms per deciliter, nearly twice the federal threshold for lead poisoning.
“As a parent, discovering that your child suffers from something as harmful as lead poisoning is devastating,” said Cummings. “As a lawmaker, I want to prevent more Maine families from becoming victims of what is sadly a completely preventable disease that has lifelong implications for our children.”
Young children are especially vulnerable to lead poisoning because 90 percent of brain growth and development occurs by age four.
One component of Cummings’s bill will expand the mission of the Lead Poisoning Prevention Fund, which is supported through an existing 25 cent paint fee, to include funding for lead inspection and enforcement and to create a voluntary lead-safe housing registry.
“The voluntary lead-safe registry offers a positive incentive for landlords who make sure their properties are safe for Maine families, without creating any regulatory or financial burden for other property owners. Most importantly, it offers a valuable resource for Maine families who are trying to find housing that is free of lead poisoning hazards to protect their young children,” said Cummings.
The bill also asks retailers that sell paint and renovation supplies to display or hand out information about the risks posed by paint removal. The majority of lead poisoning cases in Maine, 55 percent, are in homes that reported recent or ongoing home renovations.
With one of the oldest housing stocks in the country, childhood lead poisoning has been a serious issue for Maine. While many countries banned the use of lead paint in the early 1900s, the United States allowed the continued use of lead paint until 1978. Until 1950, paint was made of as much as 50 percent lead by weight. Over 35 percent of Maine housing was built prior to 1950, and 87 percent of lead-poisoned children in Maine live in pre-1950 housing.
Another measure in Cummings’s bill amends the sunset of the paint fee, which was scheduled to lapse in three years, keeping it in place until the state reaches the goal of eliminating persistent childhood lead poisoning. And the bill calls on the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, the Maine State Housing Authority, the Maine Center for Disease Control and the Maine Department of Health and Human Services to craft a plan and legislation to achieve the elimination of childhood lead poisoning. These agencies will also consider the creation of new laws including a requirement that rental housing be maintained as lead-safe housing, the creation of lead-safe renovation standards to stop the spread of lead hazards, and broadening the state’s lead removal efforts.