Important news for owners of residential and child care buildings
Lead paint is a well-known problem for older homes, and lead in residential drinking water from historic plumbing is also a recognized issue in Maine. Lead can be a serious problem if children or pregnant women are exposed at levels of concern. Recent events in Auburn and Lewiston have heightened awareness, and are leading to action by federal and state officials. It is virtually certain that this matter will lead to attention in other cities, in part, as a result of the recent drinking water issues in Flint, Michigan.
In 2015, the Auburn Water District alerted its customers that the drinking water had exceeded action levels in enough homes to require formal notification and an investigation into the cause, which is likely from customers’ plumbing systems as lead has not been detected in Lake Auburn water. The Lewiston water system is not currently in non-compliance status, but levels are just under the action figure, probably for the same reason.
Earlier this year, the Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) proposed a more stringent standard (from 15 ug/dL to 5 ug/dL) for defining persons as “lead poisoned.” If the proposed standard is adopted, more children and adults will fall into the “lead poisoned” category, raising concerns among persons who are tested. Under the rules, DHHS can investigate, post a public notice of the lead hazard for tenants and owners, and order abatement within 30 days.
In May 2016, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Regional Administrator announced an unusual inspection initiative in Lewiston-Auburn. In June 2016, EPA will start inspecting work projects in Lewiston-Auburn to ensure that painting and renovation contractors, landlords, and property management companies are following EPA rules. Federal rules closely regulate activities that disturb or renovate lead paint (as do state rules). EPA rules also require notification to tenants of lead paint hazards. Finally, Lewiston Mayor Robert Macdonald has just proposed targeting landlords with lead problems as soon as possible.
EPA has enforced its rules and exacted penalties from contractors and landlords in Maine and elsewhere. The Maine Department of Environmental Protection has also enforced its own rules on lead paint renovation.
It is certain that there will be increased enforcement in the Lewiston-Auburn area. And while the immediate focus is in that location, this effort will likely bring closer scrutiny of older buildings in other parts of the state, as most cities and towns have housing stock of the same ages, and news reports will raise visibility of the issue. It also seems likely that there will also be additional blood testing, given greater awareness by the public.