Over the past year, 322 children in Maine tested positive for lead poisoning, which can lead to serious, irreversible health problems and lower IQs.
A new $4 million lead abatement program rolled out Thursday in Lewiston, and it is designed to incentivize landlords to remove lead paint from homes before a child is poisoned.
Lewiston-area landlord Amy Smith says much of the multi-family housing stock downtown is around 100 years old. Transforming it into safe, affordable housing is a major challenge , she says, even with expected renovations such as electricity and plumbing.
"But the wild card is if you have deteriorating lead paint,” she says.
Smith says that additional cost is often enough to drive landlords to abandon projects. But the new state program is set up to help landlords cover the cost of lead abatement and provide an incentive to be proactive.
Greg Payne of the Maine Affordable Housing Coalition says that if a property is already under an abatement order because a child has been poisoned, landlords are expected to pay at least one-quarter of the cost of removing lead.
"If, however, a landlord is acting before a child is poisoned, and the property is not under abatement order, their part of that cost is limited to 10 percent,” says Payne.
The program, which is expected to distribute about $1 million annually over the next four years, is the result of a bipartisan bill spearheaded by Democratic State Representative Jared Golden, who is also running for Congress.
Federal lead abatement funds are available, but Greg Payne says they're not enough to meet the need in Maine and this program will help fill in the gap.
"We expect that the program will make at least 200 homes across the state lead safe,” says Payne.
It's unclear how many homes in Maine need lead abatement. More than 400,000 housing units were built before 1980, when lead paint was commonly used.
According to the Maine Center for Disease Control, most of the 322 Maine children identified as lead poisoned over the past year were assessed by state standards that were updated in 2015 to reflect the stricter federal standard. Health officials say that no level of lead exposure is considered safe.
Updated 12:24 p.m. November 1, 2018.