Lead poisoning is a critical issue in Lewiston and Auburn, along with many communities with older housing stock.

We know lead is particularly toxic to children and their developing brains. Lead toxicity can cause both acute and chronic cognitive problems, along with many other medical problems in children and adults. Lead poisoning can cause developmental delays, cause behavioral problems, and affect hearing and speech. It also deposits in the bone, causing significant problems.

Housing built before 1978 often has surfaces covered with lead paint. So, until recently, much of the focus has been on lead paint and the dust it creates.

Lead in tap water has started to gain needed attention since the crisis in Flint, Mich., and communities are taking notice of that serious issue. Additionally, high lead levels in water have been found in some schools in Maine and throughout the country.

Late last fall, officials in Auburn found elevated levels of lead in drinking water during routine testing of some households. The source of the lead is not Lake Auburn itself, but is more commonly caused by plumbing solder containing lead and corrosion of plumbing used within the household. However, there are situations in some of our communities where the source can be found within the public infrastructure. The city of Auburn is now monitoring the water more closely and testing more frequently. Lewiston’s recent water quality report also included more information about lead.

With the old housing stock in Lewiston and Auburn, along with its old plumbing, children here have an increased chance of lead exposure from paint and from pipes.

Maine law requires landlords and real estate agents to disclose the possible presence of lead to educate families on what may be in the home. However, many children test positive after exposure to lead within the household. Often times that occurs with older housing stock.

The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 40 percent of all childhood lead poisonings occurred in just five regions: Bangor, Lewiston and Auburn, Portland, Saco and Biddeford and Sanford. Further research shows that more than 80 percent of the children lived in rental housing in those areas.

This critical problem needs an emergent solution.

During the last legislative session, the legislature lowered the threshold at which lead levels in the blood are considered toxic. This reflects the increased understanding of lead’s toxic effects at even low levels. By doing so, more children and families will be helped if their blood tests positive for lead.

Legislators increased funding appropriated to the Maine Center for Disease Control and the Department of Health and Human Services — the agencies charged with addressing this problem. They track the occurrence of lead poisoning and the source. Their work is critical to our success.

However, the implementation of the lowered lead level rules have not been taken up in an emergent manner to date.

There are recommendations from the Environmental Protection Agency and other state and local entities to minimize lead exposure. Lead in paint and lead dust abatement programs, with federal assistance, may be available in some communities. Lead in the water is more problematic.

There are recommendations to run cold tap water for a period of time before drinking or cooking in some households. Water is treated in some communities to minimize corrosion. Filtering may be recommended.

More widely available testing of water is important. Currently there is testing at a cost to consumers. More landlords and homeowners need to take advantage of lead testing and the programs to rid housing of this toxin. Landlords and homeowners must be encouraged to pursue testing and follow through on remediation. Legislators need to increase education and funding.

Maine’s responsiveness to the crisis needs to improve.

Children poisoned by lead, whether by paint or water, need an immediate solution. We need to come together as a community to further shed light on the problem and demand solutions for our children and our community.

As a state legislator, it is my responsibility to address this problem and to hold other legislators accountable for working together to find solutions.

Rep. Heidi Brooks is serving in the Maine House of Representatives and represents part of Lewiston. She serves on the Insurance and Financial Services Committee and works on health policy in the Legislature.


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