Lead contamination is quietly poisoning Maine kids. Congress could make things worse.

Lead contamination is quietly poisoning Maine kids. Congress could make things worse.

State Representative Bettyann Sheats, a contractor and landlord from Auburn, led reporters on a tour of her rental property in Lewiston on Tuesday to highlight the dangerous, ongoing problem of lead contamination of housing in Maine.

Lead poisoning can cause serious health issues and effect physical and mental development in young children, including learning disabilities, lower intelligence, language delays, and behavior and hearing problems. Between 2009 and 2014, there were 467 children positively identified as lead-poisoned in Maine, with 97 in the Lewiston-Auburn area. Experts believe the total number affected is much higher.

“As a society we wouldn’t want a car rental agency renting cars with faulty brakes, so we have regulations,” said Sheats. “Likewise, landlords should only rent apartments that they know are safe and healthy. No one wants ‘over regulation’, but there should be standards in place to ensure public safety.”

Sheats’ property is contaminated with toxic lead paint and she conducted a lead abatement in 2009. She was joined on Tuesday by environmental and public health advocates who warned that Congress could soon act to make the problem worse.

According to Beth Ahearn, political director of Maine Conservation Voters, new legislation introduced by Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio dubbed the Regulatory Accountability Act (RAA) could cripple the process for issuing and enforcing regulations that protect the environment and public health.

“It would create many loopholes to the rule making process and places more importance on costs to industry over benefits to the public health,” said Ahearn. “If the RAA passes, regulations like the ones that govern lead abatement would not be implemented.”

Maine Second-District Representative Bruce Poliquin voted for the RAA in the House, along with all of his Republican colleagues.

Anti-lead activists hope that instead of degrading public protections, governments at all levels will increase funding, education, and regulation for lead abatement.

“Through our agency, we have made close to 1,800 home and apartments safe from lead paint hazards,” said Kevin Leonard of Community-Concepts. “I’ve been in the lead paint field since 1999, and one thing that has always been consistent is knowledge. No one understands the issues with lead paint until it happens to them, whether they are a landlord, homeowner, or parent. I’m always amazed by how individualizes school themselves once we get involved. That’s why these programs and furthering education is so important.”

As chair of the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Appropriations Subcommittee, U.S. Senator Susan Collins secured $3.4 million in federal funding to help address lead hazards in housing for low-income families in Maine.

“The Lewiston Auburn Lead Program funded by HUD has enabled Healthy Androscoggin to complete 155 resident education visits in 2016 and 2017 to teach tenants how to identify chipping and peeling paint, how to clean safely when lead hazards are present, and how to avoid disturbing lead paint present in the unit,” explained Erin Guay of Healthy Androscoggin. “We also encourage families to get their children a blood test for lead, particularly kids under the age of 6, if they have never been tested before or if they have moved recently.”

“Every child deserves the opportunity to grow to their full, unbridled potential, and through a collective commitment to lead poisoning prevention, we can make sure no child or parent is forced to face the devastating health effects that come with childhood lead exposure,” said Ruth Ann Norton, President and CEO of the Green & Healthy Homes Initiative.

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