LEWISTON — During a roundtable Saturday afternoon focused on lead poisoning in Maine, U.S. Rep. Jared Golden said that despite an increase of awareness surrounding the hazards of lead paint in homes across the country, there’s still a need to “fight harder and harder to resolve the problem.”

Golden was joined at Community Concepts on Bates Street by several local officials, public health experts and advocates and town officials to discuss the state of Maine’s lead crisis in 2019 and ways to solve the problem.

The roundtable came a day after Golden introduced the Lead Free Future Act, a $12 billion nationwide effort to eliminate the major sources of lead exposure within five years.

Golden said the act would “target and remediate lead hazards in housing, drinking water, and soil in pre-1978 residential properties of low- to moderate-income communities across the country.”

Prior to the roundtable, Golden toured two Lewiston apartments — one on College Street and the other on Lincoln Street that have been found to have lead and are in the process of abatement.

In each apartment, the tenants told Golden and representatives from Healthy Androscoggin that while risk assessment teams visited their apartments and did an inspection, they never learned where the source of the lead was in their apartments.

In the Lincoln Street apartment, the tenants — who did not speak or read English — told Heretier Nosso, health promotion coordinator for Healthy Androscoggin, that they have lived in the apartment for five months and have not been notified of which part of their apartment contains lead.

U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, center, listens as interpreter Heretier Nosso, right, of Healthy Androscoggin explains to the tenants of a Lincoln Street apartment what they need to do to keep themselves safe from lead poisoning. Matthew Daigle/Sun Journal

Golden pointed out that the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention posted a notice on the front of the Lincoln Street apartment complex explaining that the building contains lead-based paint, but “the notice is in English, which doesn’t help the family.”

During the roundtable, Nosso suggested “a hotline for people to call if they speak a different language and need information on lead-paint exposure or the lead abatement program.”

Travis Mills, manager of the Lewiston-Auburn Lead Abatement Program, said that one way the city could assist tenants living in homes with lead paint is to share the report from the risk assessment teams to highlight where lead was found in the apartment.

Golden lauded U.S. Sen. Susan Collins for her $290 million bill that was passed by the Appropriations Committee on Wednesday to secure $14.8 million of funding for three Maine cities, including Lewiston, but, he pointed out that “we could spend $2.5 billion a year and still not have enough to clean up the lead hazards.”

Golden said his proposed Lead Free Future Act would offer $100 million in support for the Maine CDC’s Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program to do more blood-lead surveillance outreach and education.

The act would also require states to use the CDC-recommended blood-lead reference level or a lower level to be eligible to receive any federal lead poisoning prevention funds. Many states currently use an older, higher standard despite a 2012 U.S. CDC finding that there is no safe level for lead in blood.

Wes Stewart of Green & Healthy Maine Homes said Saturday that “about eight states” use the CDC-recommended blood-lead reference level, while the rest remain at the older, higher standard.

Golden said that if all 50 states were required to use the CDC’s reference level, the number of people testing positive for lead exposure would increase.

State Rep. Kristen Cloutier, D-Lewiston, co-sponsored a bill requiring all 1- and 2-year-olds in Maine to be screened for lead poisoning. “Lead-free is where we need to be,” she said Saturday, but the state is frequently settling for lead-safe.

“Lead-safe is not cutting it anymore,” Cloutier said. “Sometimes, a fix to make a home lead-safe is only temporary, and then it cycles back to being unsafe.”

She said that she hopes Golden’s proposal will help cities find a way to clear homes of lead paint for good.

Golden said during a Wednesday interview with the Sun Journal that “for every dollar invested in abatement, taxpayers receive $17 to $221 in return,” citing statistics from a 2009 study in Environmental Health Perspectives.

That study found that investing in lead paint removal would produce a net savings of as much as $269 billion by paring future health care, social and behavioral costs.

Stewart agreed, adding that kids suffering from lead poisoning are “more likely to drop out of school” or “more likely to end up in the criminal justice system.”

“We need a more dramatic investment to achieve our goals,” Stewart said. “That funding would go toward the 1.1 million homes across the country where we know there are lead hazards. The money is going where it’s needed most.”

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