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High Lead Poisoning Rate Prompts Action in Lewiston

The city of Lewiston, along with medical and community organizations, will use federal grants totaling more than $3 million to comprehensively tackle a serious lead problem in the area.

At a news conference Tuesday morning, City Manager Ed Barrett said the main focus of the effort will be to improve the quality of downtown housing.

"Our children have lead poisoning at three times the rate of the state as a whole, and 10 percent of our kids suffer from asthma," Barrett said. "Nationally, 40 percent of asthma episodes are caused by triggers in the home.  So, housing is not only a problem as just a place to live, it's also a problem of what other things and activities that the folks who live there are engaged in."

According to the state toxicologist, more than 670 children in Lewiston and Auburn were poisoned by lead between 2003 and 2012.  The U.S. Centers for Disease Control says there is no safe blood level of lead, which can cause learning disabilities and behavioral problems in children and, in very high levels, can cause seizures, coma and death.

"Our goals are to perform lead hazard control interventions in 225 homes, conduct outreach to try to educate and train our community on the hazards of lead and other environmental issues in the homes and increase lead contractor supply capacity by providing free lead worker training and certification to 136 community residents," Barrett said.

In addition, the city will perform healthy homes assessments on 160 units.  Nan Heald of Pine Tree Legal Assistance, which provides help to low income residents, says a grant from the John T. Gorman Foundation will allow her staff to expand with a two-person team dedicated to ending lead poisoning in partnership with community leaders.

"Our project is going to include a really exciting medical-legal collaboration in which our staff are going to work together with health care providers to educate families about lead poisoning and to use legal interventions when appropriate to help the families that are affected by lead," Heald said.

Environmental investigators have determined that the high rate of lead poisioning results from poorly-maintained lead paint in housing.  Any home built before 1978 may contain lead paint.