Testimony at the Maine Legislature
by Jon Hinck, NRCM toxics project director
Good afternoon Senator Arthur Mayo, Representative Pingree and members of the Committee on Health and Human Services. My name is Jon Hinck. I am Staff Attorney and Toxics Project Director with the Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM).
NRCM supports LD 1034 and encourages the Committee to vote “Ought to Pass.”
A 1991 amendment to Maine’s Lead Poisoning Control Act, 22 MRSA §1314-A, set the following laudable, ambitious but attainable goal: “The goal of the State in the area of lead poisoning is to eradicate childhood lead poisoning by the year 2010 through the elimination of potential sources of environmental lead.” Some progress has been made but it is also fair to say that the State is on course to fall well short of the goal and to fail our children.
Lead exposure from old paint remains the top environmental health threat to Maine children.
The Bureau of Health reports that 550 children in Maine are officially lead-poisoned each year with elevated blood lead levels of 10 micrograms or greater of lead per deciliter of the child’s blood.
Maine has one of the country’s oldest housing stocks with 40% of all homes and apartments built before 1950, the years of lead paint’s greatest use; some 138,000 Maine single family homes and apartments still have lead paint.
Less than 1 % of Maine homes have been made “lead-safe” and free of lead dust.
LD 1034 would provide a needed response to this still grave situation. Lead exposure and poisoning gives rise to many costs – most obviously to the direct victims and their families — but also to the State and its population generally. The increased efforts to educate Mainers to reduce and prevent lead exposure, increase lead poisoning screening, ramp up lead abatement and develop safe substitutes for current uses of lead called for in this bill, will pay dividends far greater than the costs of the effort.
II. Dangerous Lead Exposure is Widespread and Longstanding
Lead is an element mined from rock and found all over the world. Lead is virtually indestructible. Lead is not biodegradable.
In the body, lead adversely affects virtually every system. Lead disrupts the production of healthy red blood cells and the development of the nervous system. It causes muscle weakness and sterility. While it is harmful to people of all ages, lead exposure is especially harmful to children, fetuses, and women of childbearing age. Even low levels of lead poisoning in children can cause irreversible neurological damage, developmental and learning disabilities. Recent studies increasingly find adverse effects occurring at blood-lead levels previously thought to be safe. There no longer is believed to be a threshold below which children do not suffer adverse affects from lead exposure. Lead is also toxic to most aquatic and terrestrial wildlife species.
In short, when lead is mobilized and made available to our air, water and food, harm results. In 1991, the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services characterized lead poisoning as the “number one environmental threat to the health of children in the United States.” A decade later Maine’s chief health official, Dr. Dora Mills, stated that lead poisoning prevention in Maine was failing, and that the State must do more to address “Maine’s Number One childhood environmental health hazard.”
Lead compounds — including lead monoxide, dioxide, tetraoxide, arsenate, carbonate, chromate, nitrate and silicate — have been used in a great range of products. As we know, lead was used to refine gasoline and manufacture paints – both uses generating unfortunate and very widespread health impacts. Lead is still used in such applications as the manufacture of batteries, pipes, solder, pottery, fireworks, glass and various kinds of weights for many uses.
Old lead-based paint still poses a major ongoing health threat through various routes of exposure. Children may ingest lead-based paint chips from flaking walls, windows, and doors. Lead from exterior house paint can flake off or leach into the soil around the outside of a home contaminating children’s play areas. Dust caused during normal lead-based paint wear, especially around windows, can create an invisible film over surfaces in a house. Renovation increases the threat of lead-based paint exposure by mobilizing fine lead dust particles in the air. Both adults and children can receive hazardous exposures by inhaling or ingesting the paint-dust.
III. LD 1034 Would Jump Start the Lead Poisoning Response
The State has long known what needs to be done to address this problem. The response steps should include each of the following:
Raise public awareness of lead-poisoning risks so parents and care-providers learn of the need to take measures to protect children.
Increase blood-test screening of children to increase early diagnosis of lead poisoning.
Abate lead hazards in old housing.
Substitute safe alternatives for the remaining uses of lead in products.
IV. A Fee on Lead is the Best Means Available to Raise Revenue for Lead Poisoning Prevention
Current methods of raising revenue do little positive and may even undermine efforts to safeguard the health and safety of the environment and society. As a corollary to this, the prices of many goods and services do not currently reflect their actual health and environmental costs. This is true even of products containing lead and other notorious persistent toxins. Even small fees on products that give rise to environmental health problems would allow us to reduce existing taxes on things like work and personal income that should be supported. LD 1034 proposes a mechanism to take a modest step in the right direction with small fees on lead products. Because of the direct savings and other economic benefits that will arise from addressing the lead problem, this measure will contribute to Maine’s economy. In other words, fees targeted on products that give rise to social, health and ecological costs of products will not increase the overall tax burden, but rather, will reduce the tax burden over time.
Lead poisoning in Maine, particularly among young children, is one of the best documented and understood public health emergencies. The problem taxes us every day and will continue to do so until the source of the problem — lead-added products — is addressed and abated. The measures needed to fix the problem are ready. Passage of LD 1034 will gives us the means to get the job done. We urge you to pass this bill. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to present this testimony.