Each year, up to 300 Maine children are diagnosed with dangerous levels of lead in their blood.

Although lead paint has been banned for decades, lead, a toxic, metallic substance, remains in the environment for years after its initial use and may still be present in homes built prior to 1978. Lead is most commonly found in chipped and peeling paints, plumbing, surrounding soil, and boats. Hobbyists who work with firearms and bullets need to be aware of lead exposure from these as well.

In children, lead can cause nervous system problems, learning disabilities, speech, language, and behavior problems. Exposure to lead has been associated with higher crime and school drop-out rates, lower IQ scores, and aggressive behavior, along with a wide array of medical problems.

To help in the fight against lead poisoning, the Maine Department of Health and Human Services will soon be sending out a mailing to parents of children born in Maine in 2010.

The lead awareness mailing will include an offer for a free Lead Dust Home Test Kit.

“This simple test takes five minutes,” says Vyvyenne Ritchie of Healthy Waldo County, a local Healthy Maine Partnership based in Belfast, in a news release. “Parents then return the kit for evaluation, and the results will soon follow.”

Maine has the seventh oldest housing stock in the US. Forty percent of all child poisonings in Maine occur in five cities and 70 to 80 percent of these poisonings are in older rental properties.

Renovation, repair and paint rules around lead went into effect in April 2010, requiring all contractors, plumbers and electricians to receive training for lead-safe work practices. The new law requires that when work is done in pre-1978 residential housing or child-occupied facilities, if sufficient areas of painted surfaces are disturbed, the dust that is created must be minimized, contained, and cleaned up.

Lead is invisible to the naked eye and has no smell. In homes or apartments built before 1978, children may be exposed by putting their fingers in their mouths after touching lead paint or dust, or toys with lead paint. Still, lead exposures and its effects are preventable.

For more information, please contact Vyvyenne Ritchie at 930-6761.