Maine’s rigorous new testing standards for lead poisoning in children has resulted in additional inspections of dwellings for lead paint, and those inspections have led to more lead hazards being discovered and removed, according to recently published research.

In 2015, Maine approved a law that reduced the blood test threshold that triggers the household inspections from 15 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood to 5 micrograms. The new standard aligns with recommendations by federal health agencies.

Currently, all children who receive Medicaid are tested for lead exposure. A bill pending in the Legislature would require lead testing for all 1- and 2-year-old children in Maine. The bill – backed by the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention – was approved by the Health and Human Services Committee and is now headed to the House and Senate floor.

Maine is currently the only New England state that does not conduct universal testing for children, but was one of the first states to use the reduced threshold for the blood test.

The research – from a study of 351 residential inspections from 2016-18 – shows that inspectors were finding lead hazards for children with lower levels of lead exposure, between 5 and 9 micrograms. The research – published in February in The Journal of Public Health Management and Practice – was conducted by the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Maine Medical Center Research Institute, Harvard School of Public Health and the University of Southern Maine.

We have found that inspections of homes of children with 5 to 9 (micrograms of lead) are nearly as likely to identify lead hazards that require abatement as inspections of homes of children with 10 (micrograms),” according to the study.


In 2017, 322 Maine children tested positive for lead levels at or above the 5 micrograms threshold. Recent research from the Maine Affordable Housing Coalition estimated that nearly 1,800 children in Maine have had lead poisoning over the past five years, and another 853 children were likely poisoned but were not screened.

“Childhood lead exposure is a significant issue in Maine because of the large number of older homes that contain lead-based paint, the primary source of lead exposure in children,” said Dr. Andrew Smith, the Maine CDC state toxicologist and co-author of the study. “There is no safe level of lead in blood, and the longer a child is exposed to lead, even at low levels, the more likely the child’s growth and development will be affected.”

Maine’s housing stock is old and many homes and apartments still have lead paint. Lead paint that is painted over is considered much more safe, but peeling paint can re-expose old lead paint and threaten children. Also, renovations that kick up dust from old lead paint can be hazardous to children.

Lead paint was banned in the United States in 1978. Lead exposure in infants can lead to a number of health and developmental problems, including learning disabilities, behavioral problems and seizures, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

About 500,000 children have levels of lead in their blood that is considered dangerous, the U.S. CDC says.

Greg Payne, director of the Maine Affordable Housing Coalition and a lead testing advocate, said the study confirms that the testing is needed, even for relatively low levels of lead exposure, and that residences with lead hazards should be identified and have the risks removed. Payne said states do not want to spend a lot of extra resources inspecting units if there’s not much likelihood that a problem will be discovered.

“All of what we are doing as a state on this issue is an enormous step forward,” Payne said.

The study also analyzed 32 children who lived in a home prior to and after removal of lead hazards. Twenty-seven of the 32 experienced a decrease in lead levels in the blood by at least 15 percent.


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