From the Field: Maine Passes Lead Poisoning Prevention Act

Governor Janet Mills signed “An Act to Strengthen the Lead Poisoning Control Act” (L.D. 1116) into law on June 27. The new law requires all Maine children to receive blood lead testing at ages one and two. Such testing will allow families to gain early awareness of any lead poisoning exposure to protect their children from irreversible harm. The law also expedites efforts to improve Maine’s housing stock and make it healthier for future generations. The Maine Affordable Housing Coalition (MAHC), an NLIHC state partner, worked closely with Governor Mills and a bipartisan group of Maine legislators to introduce and pass the bill.

Maine’s housing stock is the sixth oldest in the nation. More than half of Maine’s children are born in counties with greater than 27% of housing built before 1950, placing them at high risk for lead exposure. Research performed by Health Justice Innovations and released by MAHC in March found that only about half of one-year-old and fewer than 30% of two-year-old children statewide are being tested for lead poisoning - a screening rate that places Maine last among all New England states. The research also estimated that nearly 1,800 children in Maine have been poisoned by lead over the past five years, and another 853 children were likely poisoned but were not screened, so they have not received the benefit of any intervention or protection. The new higher levels of screening will ensure more children with elevated blood lead levels are identified and protected from further harm.

The new law enjoyed bipartisan, bicameral support and was endorsed unanimously by the Legislature’s Health & Human Services Committee before being passed “under the hammer” – meaning, without any meaningful objection – by both the House and Senate. Governor Mills included funding for the measure within the state budget that was also passed by the legislature.

The devastating effects of lead exposure on children are undisputed, ranging from developmental delays that can affect lifelong achievement to serious muscular and nervous system damage and even immediate or premature death. The most recent empirical research demonstrates that even the lowest levels of exposure can result in permanent brain damage.

 “Maine is now just the second state in the nation to both require that all one- and two-year-old children get tested for lead exposure and also align its intervention protocols with the blood lead level standards established by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control,” said Greg Payne, executive director of the Maine Affordable Housing Coalition. “Hundreds of children will benefit every year from this change, saving an enormous amount of heartache, developmental struggles, economic loss, and health care and special education costs.”

MAHC will now focus its efforts on ensuring the new law is effectively implemented and used to better protect Maine children from the irreparable, but entirely preventable, harms of lead poisoning.

For more information about the Maine Affordable Housing Coalition or the new law, contact Greg Payne at: [email protected] or 207-245-3341