AUGUSTA – A newly published study indicates that the state's adoption of lower blood lead thresholds to initiate home inspections is protecting Maine children from lead exposure.

The study, recently published in the winter edition of The Journal of Public Health Management and Practice, was led by researchers from Maine and Massachusetts. It examines the Maine Legislature's decision to make Maine one of the first states in the nation to require environmental inspections at blood lead levels (BLLs) as low as 5 micrograms lead per deciliter blood (g/dL). Most states do not require inspections until blood lead levels are 10 ug/dL or higher.

This 2015 law change resulted in a seven-fold increase in inspection activity and in the number of children who receive free case management services from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Maine CDC).

"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, 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."

This study analyzed results from the first two years of inspection activity at these lower BLLs. Maine CDC's Dr. Smith and colleagues found that inspections of homes of children who had BLLs as low as 5 to 9 g/dL were nearly as likely to find lead hazards that required abatement (removal of lead hazards) as inspections of homes of children with higher BLLs. States have been reluctant to perform inspections at these lower BLLs, partially due to concern that environmental investigators will not identify lead hazards often enough to justify such use of limited public health resources.

"This finding supports the decision by the Maine Legislature to lower the BLL at which the Department must inspect homes for lead hazards," Dr. Smith noted.

To assess if the identification and subsequent removal of lead hazards at these lower lead standards further reduced child BLLs, researchers conducted an analysis of 32 children who lived in a home before and after lead hazard removal. The majority of these children had 15 to 40 percent less lead in their blood, further highlighting the importance of inspecting at these lower levels.

Children under the age of three years are at the highest risk of lead exposure because they tend to pick up lead dust on their hands and put their hands in their mouths often. Homeowners, tenants, and landlords need to ensure that older homes with deteriorating or chipping paint are remediated in a lead-safe way.

The study was authored by scientists from Maine CDC, Harvard School of Public Health, Maine Medical Center Research Institute, and the University of Southern Maine.

The study is available online.

Facts about Childhood Lead Poisoning in Maine

  • In 2017, 322 children were newly identified as having a confirmed BLL of 5 g/dL or above.
  • About 90% of lead poisonings in Maine occur in homes built prior to 1950.
  • Nearly three out of four lead poisonings occurred among children enrolled in MaineCare.
  • More than two out of three lead poisonings occurred in rental dwellings.
  • Recent renovation activity, a source of lead dust, was reported in nearly 40% of homes associated with a lead-poisoned child.
  • Childhood exposure can result in long-lasting brain damage that can lead to learning and behavioral problems.

For More Information:

Order a free lead dust test kit to test for lead in a home.