A new federal rule may offer some help to children living in subsidized housing who face exposure to toxic lead paint.

The new U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development standard lowers the acceptable blood level to a threshold urged by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, allowing for quicker lead abatement.

The issue is particularly sensitive in Lewiston and Auburn, which have the highest rate of childhood lead poisoning in Maine.

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins said the change, which she has pressed for, “will help protect countless children from the harmful, often permanent effects of lead poisoning.”

In a statement Friday, Collins said lead exposure “remains one of the most prevalent environmental issues facing children today. We must continue our efforts to eradicate this health threat.”

Healthy Androscoggin, which has focused on the issue, describes lead as “a neurotoxin that is especially harmful to children under six years old” who most often are exposed from chipping, peeling paint in older homes.

The lead can create a dangerous dust “that settles on floors and windowsills where children and infants can touch and ingest it by chewing on toys, putting their hands in their mouths, and eating without washing their hands,” the community coalition said.

Too much lead can lead to learning disabilities, IQ reductions and other problems that undermine the chance a child will thrive.

Federal housing regulations on lead haven’t been updated since 1999 and had allowed for lead exposure in children’s blood “up to four times higher than the CDC-recommended level before requiring action to address lead hazards in public and assisted housing,” according to Collins’ office.

The new standard potentially covers 2.9 million HUD-assisted housing units. Collins said about 128,000 of them may contain both lead-based paint and children under the age of six.

Collins and U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., wrote last year to HUD Secretary Julián Castro to urge the rule revision.

Collins also said she secured language in the next HUD budget that would require the lower lead threshold.

Her office said she has championed the issue of lead poisoning since a 1999 hearing she held in Lewiston during her first term in office.

“Since the beginning of my Senate service, I have worked to raise awareness and secure funding to address this largely preventable health problem,” Collins said.


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