LEWISTON — The city announced Monday that its lead abatement program has cleared 500 housing units of lead since 2009, and is on pace to meet targets set for its most recent federal grant.
Lewiston has long been recognized as having one of the highest rates of childhood lead poisoning in the state, and has been a recipient of U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development grants since 2009.
The Lewiston-Auburn Lead Program is a collaboration among the Twin Cities and Community Concepts and Healthy Androscoggin.
In a city news release Monday, several local organizations praised the program hitting the 500-unit mark.
“Too many children have high lead levels simply because they live in or near apartments that have old lead paint,” said Joan Churchill, CEO of Community Clinical Services, a group of public health clinics. “These children are at risk for long-term negative effects to their health, and the city can be proud of its achievement in ensuring many less children are exposed.”
Lewiston Mayor Shane Bouchard added, “This is wonderful news. I applaud all those involved in our multi-partner approach to lead safety. We are fortunate to have the HUD grant and people on board who are dedicated to area families.”
Much of the focus of the program has been on the downtown “tree streets” neighborhood in Lewiston. The area features buildings that were built mostly before 1940, when the use of lead paint was common, and the neighborhood is home to many low-income families with young children.
The funds are designed to assist property owners with lead abatement. When the city was awarded its latest $3.1 million grant last year, Lewiston officials said interest among landlords was at an all-time high.
From 2009 to 2016, the Lewiston-Auburn program cleared 481 units of lead paint hazards, an average of four units per month. In the first three quarters of 2017, the program cleared 35 units to break the 500 mark, and according to officials, has already contracted enough work to meet its targets for June 30, 2019 — the end of fiscal 2018-19.
According to the news release, the target for the 2018 HUD grant is 220 units by Jan. 1, 2021.
Travis Mills, lead program manager for Lewiston and Auburn, is confident they’ll exceed that mark. But he also says lead abatement efforts need to be maintained.
“Lead inspection and hazard control is an important first step for a property,” he said. “The real key to keep housing safe is for owners to use this paint data to maintain the property. Lead paint is safe when it’s in good condition. Abatement of hazards does not mean all lead paint is removed. If the remaining paint is maintained, the housing will stay safer at a much lower cost.”
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Even low levels of lead in blood have been shown to affect IQ, ability to pay attention and academic achievement. And effects of lead exposure cannot be corrected.”
The 500-unit mark for the program comes during National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week, Oct. 21-27.
According to the release, Healthy Androscoggin has planned several Lead Poisoning Prevention Week events throughout the community. The group will provide lead dust kit sign-ups at various agencies throughout the community, as well as distribute materials to elementary students in Lewiston and Auburn.
They will also be filming a promotion on lead poisoning prevention in partnership with Central Maine Medical Center, which is likely tied to the organization’s recent acquisition of a $120,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency.
On Thursday, Oct. 25, Healthy Androscoggin is hosting a “Healthy Homes, Healthy Families” class at Trinity Jubilee from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., as well as a “Lights On” event at Kennedy Park from 3 to 6 p.m.
Katie Boss, the health promotion manager at Healthy Androscoggin, said, “Healthy Androscoggin is proud to serve our community in reducing the burden of childhood lead poisoning and is thrilled to see investment and progress on this critical issue. We are committed to continued partnership to protect the well-being and the bright futures of the children in our community.”
Last year when discussing the latest HUD grant, Lewiston officials said despite the progress that’s been made, there’s potentially hundreds of buildings — and thousands of units — that still need attention.
Lincoln Jeffers, director of Economic and Community Development, estimated there are roughly 5,800 units in the downtown census areas that could fit the criteria, but he said that doesn’t mean all of them would test high for lead.
When the results of a lead test on a child show high levels, and the apartment or dwelling of the child also tests hot for lead, the landlord is forbidden from renting the unit until abatement measures have occurred.
The Lewiston-Auburn Lead Program has cleared 500 units through its lead abatement efforts, a city news release said Monday. (Sun Journal file photo)