We’d like to shake Mayor Bob Macdonald’s hand.

After a story was published in the Sun Journal last weekend containing alarming statistics on the Twin Cities’ lead paint problem and the negative, long-lasting effects on children, the Lewiston mayor on Tuesday said he would convene a new health committee around the issue next week.

“One thing we are going to do here, we are going to go after landlords,” Macdonald told the City Council.

There’s no question lead paint is worth taking seriously. 

One Lewiston clinic is on pace to have 55 children test positive for elevated blood lead levels in 2016, double the number who tested positive last year. The most common culprit: Pre-1978 housing stock with chipping lead paint and dust.

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates the area may have as many as 17,000 housing units built before 1950, apartments that are the most likely to contain lead paint. 

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Lead exposure can lead to lifelong issues of lowered IQ, problems paying attention and diminished academic achievement, according to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention. Those effects can’t be reversed.

“You have these kids coming to our schools that are getting poisoned,” Macdonald told the council. “We are condemning them for the rest of their lives — that’s not going to happen.”

Some public funds exist for remediation, but it’s expensive work. 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency this week said it was putting local contractors and building professionals on notice to make sure they were following rules around lead paint removal because of the high number of children poisoned in Lewiston-Auburn. It will start inspecting local projects in June and fines may follow.

All this is happening against the backdrop of a state policy change that’s about to make the problem in Maine look even worse: The state is lowering the blood lead level at which a child is considered poisoned from 15 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood to just five.

Kids are getting sick and it’s a long-running issue unlikely to go away without targeted strategies.  

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Last fall, Ben Chin, who ran unsuccessfully for mayor against Macdonald, made Lewiston’s poor and aging housing stock, along with getting tougher on landlords, a central theme of his campaign. That long and heated race could have politicized the issue and tempted Macdonald to steer clear. He didn’t.

Kudos to the mayor for seeing the latest numbers and taking action. He said he hoped his new committee would come up with an action plan by the end of summer.

One idea already floated: potentially withholding Section 8 voucher payments to landlords whose units have known lead issues. 

We look forward to seeing what Macdonald and his group come up with.

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