Rise in lead poisoning

Lewiston, Maine’s second-largest city, is trying to do something to tackle its glaring lead poisoning issue. Due to the aged infrastructure that makes up most of the city, many of the buildings are still covered in paint with unhealthy amounts of lead in it. The result is that lead poisoning in children is at three times the state average. The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention recently collected some disturbing data: “there were 467 children treated for lead poisoning in Maine from 2009 to 2013, and 97 of those children were from the Lewiston-Auburn area.” Lewiston Mayor Rob MacDonald was the first to acknowledge that these statistics are “unacceptable.” 

Last week, MacDonald met with the Legislatures Health and Human Services committee to declare his support for a bill which would lower Maine’s blood-lead level standard from 15 micrograms of lead per deciliter to the new federal standard of five micrograms per deciliter. Whether or not the bill passes, MacDonald sees taking on some type of initiative as crucial to the well-being of the Lewiston resident, specifically the children.

MacDonald recognizes that the children living in Lewiston already have many obstacles to overcome, and lead poisoning should not be added to their burden. “I see these little children out there at the bus stop and just looking at them you know that they’ve got a lot to overcome and some of that they may not be able to overcome,” Macdonald said. “But this is something here—that you people have an ability to make sure is not one of the barriers these children are going to face as they go on in life.”

Lead poisoning occurs when lead builds up in the body, which happens when one is exposed to lead paint over a moderate period of time. Children under the age of six are especially vulnerable. Lead poisoning can severely affect their mental and physical development. Current scientific research shows that even low levels of lead exposure can lead to irreversible neurological damage, learning problems and behavioral disorders. The effect of this is a rise in special education costs, and a population whose futures have been limited due to preventable mental health problems. In the long-term, these children who have been faced with lead poisoning will struggle to obtain a level of higher education, which in turn limits the amount of income they will earn over the course of their lives. Essentially, lead poisoning is a slippery slope with which no child deserves to be burdened.

In order to tackle this glaring issue, the city of Lewiston has been given a three million dollar grant for federal housing and urban development. With this money, the city plans to create a Lead-based Paint Hazard Control Program and resolve some of the preventative lead-based health issues the city is facing. Specifically, the money will go towards a “comprehensive lead education and abatement program, providing lead assessments for 225 downtown homes, interventions in 160 dwelling units and 50 educational and outreach events in the community.”

One important thing to look at is that over half of the lead poisoning victims in Lewiston live in rental housing. With this in mind, it is particularly important that landlords of rental homes or duplexes make the socially responsible move to have their buildings screen and protect their tenants. For landlords in Lewiston, not only is having their buildings screened and cleared of harmful lead paint the smart and thoughtful action to take, but it will also increase their property values.

One landlord, Bettyann Sheats, has recently taken the initiative to have her buildings screen and cleared of harmful lead paints. Sheats owns two 100-year-old rental buildings in Lewiston, and she felt that it was her personal responsibility to look out for the well-being of the people she rents to.

Sheats explained her motivation, “As a responsible citizen and taxpayer, I am protecting children from getting poisoned by lead paint. Morally it is the right thing to do. I want my children to have friends who are healthy and are able to succeed. If a child gets poisoned we could be losing the next Einstein and we wouldn’t know it.”

Sheats advises all landlords in Lewiston to apply for the lead screening and to tackle this lead problem at hand. “Addressing lead paint doesn’t have to be scary. Landlords need to get information. It is another burden, but it is a responsibility. Landlords have to make sure the heat works, the roof doesn’t leak and children are not getting poisoned by lead.”

Considering the grants towards the initiative, the cost to homeowners and landlords is minor, and the positive effects are great—one less child struggling with lead poisoning.

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