We’ve talked a lot about Maine’s failures in the realm of public health. Now let’s talk about one of its successes.

In the last year, following a law change in the Legislature, the number of Maine children notified as having early exposure to dangerous levels of lead went up ten-fold. This means that 10 times more children will have the opportunity to stop the poisoning before damage is done.

To make this happen, the Legislature simply lowered the threshold for notification from 15 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood to 5, matching the recommendation of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Lead paint was banned in 1978, but it is still present in many old homes and apartments, of the kind commonly found in Maine – the last survey turned up hotspots in Lewiston, Augusta and Auburn. Children can easily ingest lead dust or paint chips, with long-term exposure causing a whole host of health ailments and learning disabilities, often permanent. Early intervention is key, which is why the Legislature acted.

In doing so, they raised the number of children who qualified for notification from 34 under the old law to 386. Under the law, the state will oversee remediation efforts by landlords, such as painting over lead paint or vacuuming up lead dust. If the problem is more severe, then further actions are taken.

That’s 352 Maine children who won’t suffer from the effects of lead poisoning and who won’t develop the learning and behavioral problems that can plague them for a lifetime, and cost Maine taxpayers dearly in the form of special education costs.

That’s a lesson that good public policy works, and that bipartisan efforts in the Legislature can lead to wonderful outcomes.

Lawmakers should remember that when they take up universal screening for lead poisoning; only 28 percent of Maine children are now tested.

And they should remember it when they tackle mitigation of another toxic element – arsenic, which, among other things, has been tied to an elevated risk of bladder cancer in northern New England.

Because of the bedrock upon which much of Maine rests, well water in the state is particularly susceptible to arsenic infiltration. About 1 in 8 Maine wells is estimated to have a too-high concentration of arsenic, and it’s worse in some areas – the Augusta region, Down East Maine and the state’s southern coast.

But more than half of Maine wells have not been tested, a problem the Legislature has tried to address for some time, with some success in 2017.

After a bill to promote well testing was vetoed, and the veto upheld, in 2015, an almost identical bill was passed this year, over the objections of Gov. LePage. The bill, L.D. 454, applies a $10 fee for every test done at the state water-testing lab and uses it for outreach and education.

If this can be paired with a program that helps low-income Mainers pay for items such as filters for their water systems, it – like the lead testing bill before it – can make a great deal of difference.

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