Childhood lead poisoning has to end

March 19, 2018

This year marks 40 years since the use of lead paint was banned from consumer use in this country. The federal government banned lead paint in 1978 because the dangers of exposure to lead were too great to ignore. But in 40 years, Maine has made shamefully slow progress in protecting our kids from lead poisoning.

Between 2012-2016, nearly two thousand Maine kids were diagnosed with elevated blood lead levels. Those kids will face struggles with learning disabilities, decreased I.Q., speech development problems, hearing loss, hyperactivity, attention issues and increased violence and aggressive behavior. And that’s if the exposure was mild enough to only cause low levels of lead poisoning. Kids with high EBL levels suffer from symptoms ranging from reduced motor control, developmental disabilities to comas, convulsions or even death.

The human toll of lead exposure on Maine children is unacceptable. The fact that hundreds of kids in Maine are diagnosed with EBL levels is more than enough reason to eliminate the sources of lead exposure. But whenever there’s a proposal to seriously tackle lead remediation, the usual opponents start asking how much it’s going to cost. The answer is that it’s already costing us hundreds of millions of dollars every year.

Those same 2,000 kids with EBL levels all exceeded the threshold for triggering intervention from the Maine Center for Disease Control. Special education costs related to lead poisoning run around 15,000 per child every year. Further, Maine babies born this year who will experience childhood lead poisoning will collectively lose $270 million dollars over the course of their lives in the form of decreased earnings. That doesn’t include increased costs to Maine families and taxpayers for things like incarceration, juvenile delinquency, treatment and more.

There are plenty of problems out there that we don’t have the solution for. Lead poisoning isn’t one of them. We know exactly how to stop this from happening. If we remove the source of the lead, kids will stop getting lead poisoning. Right now, the Legislature is considering a bill that would create a $4 million fund that homeowners and landlords can access to remove lead hazards from the approximately 280,000 contaminated homes around the state. LD 1542 would also reward proactive property owners by paying a larger proportion of the cost if remediation happens before any children are poisoned.

Maine kids deserve the best start we can possibly give them. Investing in lead paint remediation is something we should have done decades ago. The longer we wait, the more kids will suffer and the more we will all pay the consequences. We must act now to protect Maine kids from this well-known threat.

Golden is serving his second term in the Maine House and represents part of the city of Lewiston. He currently serves as the Assistant House Majority Leader. He is the sponsor of LD 1542.

Handy is serving his sixth non-consecutive term in the Maine House representing part of the city of Lewiston. He serves on the Legislature’s Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee which oversees residential lead abatement. He is a cosponsor of LD 1542.