The John T. Gorman Foundation agrees with the recent Portland Press Herald editorial calling for swifter implementation of the new, legislatively approved, tougher state standards regarding lead exposure (“Our View: Maine DHHS should fast-track tougher lead regulations,” Feb. 5).

As part of our foundation’s efforts to give all Maine children the chance at academic success, we have learned that even minor exposure to lead has devastating consequences that affect kids’ long-term well-being.

Studies indicate that a lead-poisoned child is 30 percent less likely to be reading proficiently by the third grade – an important predictor of later school failure and high school graduation. That’s just one of many ill effects that this toxin has on the bodies and minds of Maine’s smallest residents.

Lead poisoning also has the potential to wreak economic havoc on our state. A University of Maine economist has pegged the lost lifetime wages for Maine lead-poisoned children at $240 million. That’s because of the damage that lead does to their intellectual functioning.

This isn’t a hypothetical situation: Even though the condition is severely underdiagnosed, there are over 400 known cases of lead poisoning in young Maine kids, including over 100 in Androscoggin County alone.

And those numbers, which are based on Maine’s former, more lax standards, grossly understate the prevalence of the problem. (The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that over 500 new cases statewide are likely to be diagnosed once new standards are implemented.)

We agree wholeheartedly that the Legislature did the right thing last June by lowering the acceptable threshold of lead to be in line with federal standards. Maine’s most vulnerable families have enough to worry about without their children being poisoned by lead in their homes – and they shouldn’t have to wait another day to be safe.

Tony Cipollone

president and CEO, John T. Gorman Foundation