AUGUSTA — A legislative committee voted unanimously Tuesday to endorse a bill that would require all young children in Maine to be screened for lead poisoning.

Under current law, any child who is in the state’s Medicaid program – known as MaineCare – must have their blood tested for elevated lead levels at ages 1 and 2. While many pediatricians routinely test all children, only children on private insurance who are deemed to be at risk of lead exposure must be tested.

The Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee voted to endorse a bill that would establish a universal blood test for lead for all 1- and 2-year-olds. Maine is the only northeastern state that doesn’t require testing of all 1- and 2-year-olds, despite the fact that the risk exposure is likely higher in Maine because the state has the nation’s oldest housing stock.

Supporters contend the expansion is necessary to improve early detection of lead poisoning, which can severely slow a child’s development and cause learning disabilities, seizures and other health problems.

Greg Payne with the Maine Affordable Housing Coalition said the bill, if enacted, would help “to make sure that hundreds and hundreds of kids are tested.” In turn, that will help inform parents early on about lead hazards before their children start exhibiting learning problems, Payne said.

The bill, L.D. 1116, had originally proposed doubling the per-gallon fee on paint from 25 cents to 50 cents to pay for home inspections and lead abatement measures. But the committee removed that language because Gov. Janet Mills’ proposed budget earmarked additional funding to those programs.

Testimony presented to the committee last month suggested that Maine is already failing to test all MaineCare children for lead despite the requirement. Roughly half of 1-year-olds and only about a third of 2-year-olds enrolled in MaineCare had their blood tested for lead in 2017, according to data from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Recent research from the Maine Affordable Housing Coalition estimated that nearly 1,800 children in Maine have had lead poisoning over the past five years, and another 853 children were likely poisoned but were not screened.

The bill, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Nate Libby, D-Lewiston, will now go to the full Senate and House for consideration. The Legislature’s Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee will review the proposed funding increase for lead inspections and abatement as part of the budget process now underway.

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 791-6312 or at:

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