by Matt Prindiville, NRCM Toxics Policy Advocate
Good afternoon Senator Martin, Representative Koffman and members of the Committee on Natural Resources. My name is Matt Prindiville. I am the Toxics Policy Advocate for the Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM).
NRCM supports LD 555 and encourages the Committee to vote “Ought to Pass.” Passage of this bill will help protect Maine children from lead poisoning.
According to the Center for Disease Control, childhood lead poisoning is “the most common environmental disease of young children,” eclipsing all other environmental health hazards found in the residential environment.(1) The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that approximately 1.7 million children have blood lead levels high enough to be of a health concern.(2) Lead is highly toxic and affects virtually every system of the body. While adults can suffer from excessive lead exposures, the groups most at risk are developing babies and children under age six. At low levels, the neurotoxic effects of lead have the greatest impact on children’s developing brains and nervous systems, causing reductions in IQ and attention span, reading and learning disabilities, hyperactivity, and behavioral problems.(3)
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.
The primary pathway for lead exposure is through lead paint. Prior to 1978, when lead was banned as an additive to paint, it had been used for centuries to make paint more durable and long lasting and to give it a shine. According to the Maine State Housing Authrority, about 80 percent of all Maine homes and apartments built before 1978 have lead paint in them. 40% of these dwellings contain dangerously high levels of contamination. Because Maine’s housing stock is among the oldest in the country, they are at high risk for exposing their inhabitants to lead, “particularly children who tend to be exposed through such normal activities as playing on the floor, putting their hands in their mouths and touching painted window sills.” (4) Lead from exterior house paint can also 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. When carpenters and painters remove paint from exterior or interior walls or disrupt lead painted surfaces, lead dust is spread throughout the house or apartment. This dust can also contaminate nearby homes and apartments through normal airflow and wind patterns. Both adults and children can receive hazardous exposures by inhaling or ingesting the paint-dust.
III. Maine’s Number One Childhood Environmental Health Hazard
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.”
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.
• A compilation of six years of data (1994-1999) shows that one in nine children who were screened were found to have elevated lead levels. (5)
• Maine CDC 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.
• According to the Learning Disabilities of Maine, 13,400 Maine children and 127,000 adults have learning disabilities. Exposure to toxic substances is part of the root cause of over 25% of learning disabilities.(6)
• 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.(7)
IV. Requiring Renovators to Participate in Lead Poisoning Prevention
L.D. 555 would help address this problem by giving Maine families 30 days notice before renovations which may involve lead-based paint are performed in their home. Currently, Maine has no such requirement beyond the federal requirement of only 5 days which is not enough time for homeowners or lessees to inform themselves of their risks and rights and to prepare to relocate if that is necessary.
V. Amendment to Require Posting of Estimated Finish Time for Renovation Projects
Currently, the bill does not specify that the owner notify the tenant when the renovation work will be finished, which seems necessary in order to truly prevent harm to children occupying the building. We suggest that the Committee consider an amendment that would require landlords to not just post that estimated start date, but also the estimated finish date to further enable families to make necessary plans to avoid exposure.
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 paint – is addressed and abated. Passage of LD 555 will help ensure that parents are properly notified of potential hazards and can take precautionary measures to protect themselves and their children. We urge you to pass this bill.
Thank you for the opportunity to testify on this important issue.
1. “Strategic Plan for the Elimination of Lead Poisoning”, Centers for Disease Control (CDC’). U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Atlanta, Georgia, 1991.
2. “Office of Lead-Based Paint Abatement and Poisoning Prevention; Requirements for Notification, Evaluation and Reduction of Lead-Based Paint Hazards in Federally Owned Residential Property and Housing Receiving Federal Assistance.” US EPA. www.epa.gov/EPA-GENERAL/1996/June/Day-07/pr-23402.txt.html
3. Davis, J.M., R. Elias and L. Grant. “Current Issues in Human Lead Exposure and Regulation.”
4. “Healthy Maine 2010: Environmental Health.” Maine Center for Disease Control. www.maine.gov/dhhs/boh/files/hm2010/hm2010/a06ch03.pdf
6. Healthy Homes and Familes: How to Reduce Your Families Exposure to Toxic Chemicals at Home.” Learning Disabilities of Maine. May 2006. www.ldame.org/docs/healthy%20homes%20may2006.pdf
7. “Healthy Maine 2010: Environmental Health.” Maine Center for Disease Control. www.maine.gov/dhhs/boh/files/hm2010/hm2010/a06ch03.pdf