LEWISTON — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has launched an effort to clean up lead paint in Lewiston-Auburn. 

Curt Spaulding, the EPA’s regional administrator in Boston, said the effort was unique to Lewiston-Auburn, the area with the highest number of lead-poisoned children in the state.

The agency has put painting and renovation contractors, landlords and property management companies on notice that it will begin inspecting work projects in Lewiston-Auburn in June. Inspectors will work to ensure federal law is being followed and the EPA may fine those who are not in compliance, according to a news release.

“Children’s exposure to lead continues to be a significant health concern here in New England,” Spaulding said in a prepared statement. “This is especially true for kids who live in underprivileged areas and other areas where there is a large amount of older housing stock that hasn’t been renovated and lead paint has not been removed.”

He said the EPA would work closely with its local, state and federal partners to address “a serious public health problem affecting children.”

The agency intends to provide information about steps it is taking to increase compliance under the federal Toxic Substances Control Act, specifically rules for lead-based paint renovation, repair and painting.

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The act, according to the EPA, “is designed to prevent children’s exposure to lead-based paint and/or lead-based paint hazards resulting from renovation, repair and painting projects in pre-1978 residences, schools and other buildings where children are present.”

The rule also requires those doing renovation work involving lead-painted surfaces to complete eight-hour training courses and it requires any company they work for to be certified by the EPA.

In 2015, an EPA official told the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting that the federal agency lacked the resources to adequately enforce the lead safety laws in the U.S. and in particular in Maine.

Only three enforcement actions had been mounted in Maine since the rule went into effect in 2010. In August 2015, Sharon Hayes, the regional EPA administrator in Boston who is in charge of enforcing the regulations told the center that her agency was unable to effectively enforce the law.

The EPA on Tuesday also said it would look to ensure compliance with other federal laws pertaining to lead paint, including that landlords and real estate agencies must inform those renting apartments or buying buildings of possible lead hazards.

“Enforcing lead paint notification and work site standards helps to level the playing field for companies complying with the law, as well as helps to provide a safer and healthier environment for children,” according to the EPA release.

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Advocates for affordable housing in Maine welcomed the EPA’s new focus on Lewiston-Auburn, said Greg Payne, the director of the nonprofit Affordable Housing Coalition.

“Today’s announcement from the EPA is yet another sign that we have passed a critical threshold in public engagement on addressing Maine’s lead poisoning problems,” Payne said.  

“As the state moves toward implementation of our new childhood lead poisoning prevention law, hundreds of homes — and the children who live in them — will benefit from much-needed renovations,” he said.

The new law creates a lower blood-lead standard of 5 micrograms of lead per deciliter of whole blood. The previous standard was three times higher, 15 micrograms per deciliter of blood.

Payne said an uptick in renovation work could help create jobs.

“Maine-based workers should be trained and employed to perform these renovations, to create both healthier homes and good-paying jobs in our communities,” Payne said. “The EPA can help to make sure that this work happens responsibly and efficiently.”

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The EPA is coordinating its efforts with several municipal departments in each city, the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and several nongovernmental organizations, such as Healthy Androscoggin. 

The EPA push on lead in Lewiston-Auburn this year follows similar efforts in New Haven, Conn., and Nashua, N.H.

John Martins, a spokesman for the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said the state welcomes the support of the federal EPA when it comes to lead paint and lead poisoning.

“While our data tells us that the primary source of childhood lead poisoning comes from poorly maintained lead paint rather than professional home renovation or repair, we certainly support the EPA’s reinforcement of the rules around contractors’ compliance with proper and safe repair, renovation and painting,” Martins said in an email message to the Sun Journal.

He added, “We also welcome any increased efforts to promote compliance with the federal Real Estate Notification and Disclosure Rule. This EPA initiative complements Maine CDC’s existing efforts to educate those who regularly do this work, including private homeowners.”

Lewiston’s director of planning and community development, Lincoln Jeffers, likewise said the city welcomed the EPA’s increased involvement.

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“It is great to see that the EPA will be coming to town to help educate tenants and landlords about the hazards of lead paint to children, and how to protect against the hazard,” Jeffers said.

“The number of local children who continue to become lead poisoned is tragic,” he said. “This effort to step up education and enforcement will build upon the work the cities are doing with the $3.4 million Lead Hazard Control and Green and Healthy Home grants received last year.”

The Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting contributed to this report.

[email protected] 

Previous coverage

SunJournal.com/lead

  • Properties in Lewiston-Auburn that are under a lead paint abatement order
  • Properties and landlords who have funding to help clean up a lead paint hazard
  • Reports from the Maine CDC and the city of Lewiston
    • Information on state and local efforts to protect children from lead poisoning
    • A 2008 study by a former University of Southern Maine adjunct economics professor on the financial impacts of childhood disease, including lead poisoning, in Maine.

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