Sen. Libby, health officials celebrate new law to reduce lead poisoning rates in Maine children

Posted: October 30, 2019 | Senator Libby

Senate Majority Leader Nate Libby, D-Lewiston; Dr. Linda J. Glass, M.D., F.A.A.P., co-owner of Pediatric Associates in Lewiston; and Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Nirav D. Shah were joined by other health experts, legislators and community members working to prevent lead poisoning in children at Pediatric Associates on Tuesday to celebrate a new law aiming to reduce lead poisoning rates among Maine children.

“This new law requires that all Maine children be tested for unsafe exposure to lead at one- and two-years-old. When we catch lead poisoning that early, we can get the situation remedied, whether it’s being caused in the home or elsewhere,” said Sen. Libby. “If a kid isn’t tested, we’ll never know, and the lead poisoning – the irreversible damage to their growing brains and bodies – will continue for that child, and maybe others.”

LD 1116, “An Act To Strengthen the Lead Poisoning Control Act,” received unanimous, bipartisan support in the Legislature and was signed into law by Gov. Janet Mills on July 27.

Sen. Libby speaking at Tuesday’s press conference, while holding his son, Charlie

“In the past decade, Maine has made progress in reducing the number of children who test positive for elevated levels of lead from close to 1,000 per year to about 300,” said Dr. Shah. “Although that is significant progress, and progress we should mark, that’s still 300 kids too many.”

Lead poisoning can cause permanent and irreversible cognitive impairment. Children and their developing brains are especially at risk of adverse health effects from exposure to lead. Lewiston and Auburn have the highest rates of lead poisoning in Maine due to a combination of older housing stock and a recent increased awareness of the importance of testing for lead poisoning.

“At Pediatric Associates over the last several years, we’ve made a concerted effort to get our lead testing rates up higher each year,” said Dr. Glass. “I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished, because it means better health outcomes for the kids and families who come to our practice, and we want that for kids all across Maine.”

Prior law mandated that only 1- and 2-year-olds on MaineCare be tested for lead exposure. Under LD 1116, lead testing is mandated for all 1- and 2-year-olds in Maine, regardless of income.

LD 1116 builds on earlier successes around lead poisoning prevention. A 2015 law aligned Maine’s definition of “lead poisoned” with federal CDC recommendations. With that better standard in place, 1,022 Maine children have been identified as lead poisoned since 2016, but 940 of those – 92 percent – wouldn’t have been identified without the updated definition. In 2018, the Legislature appropriated $4 million in lead abatement, which is being administered by MaineHousing. So far the program has funded lead abatement in more than 70 Maine homes. Maine is only the second state to have both the updated definition for “lead poisoned” and the requirement that all children be tested at ages one and two.