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July 3, 2019

Healthy Androscoggin gets grant to further lead poisoning mitigation effort

child at window Courtesy / Lewiston-Auburn Lead Program Lewiston-Auburn, which has the highest rate of lead poisoning in the state, will get mitigation help from a 2019 Lead Poisoning Prevention Grant.

Healthy Androscoggin has received a 2019 Lead Poisoning Prevention Grant, one of only nine organizations nationwide to get an award from the National Center for Healthy Housing’s Equipping Communities for Action Initiative.

The grant includes $25,000 in cash for the Lewiston-Auburn nonprofit, as well as 18 months of coaching and support, including access to national experts, engagement in a peer learning network, and a customized analysis of the cost of childhood lead exposure and the economic benefits of intervention.

Lewiston-Auburn has the highest rate of lead poisoning in the state, more than three times the state average, according to the Lewiston-Auburn Lead Program website.

Lead poisoning is one of the major environmental health threats for children in Maine, according to a Maine legislative report published in January. In young children, exposure to lead causes brain damage that can result in learning and behavioral problems.

"There is now national scientific consensus that there is no safe level of lead in a child’s body," the report said.
Most of the poisoning results from exposure to dust from lead paint found in Maine’s old housing stock — 69% of Maine children with lead poisoning live in rental housing, the report said. (See fact box below for more on Maine lead poisoning.)

Some 40% of children with lead poisoning live in Maine's five major metropolitan areas — Lewiston/Auburn, Bangor, Portland, Sanford and Biddeford/Saco.

Healthy Androscoggin, an affiliate of Central Maine Healthcare, will use the grant to continue its childhood lead poisoning prevention work in Lewiston and Auburn, the organization said in a news release.

Within its broader mission of increasing accessibility of healthy housing, the organization will work with community partners and decision-makers to establish the most impactful policy improvements, including strategies unique to each of the two cities, and will focus on the economic and community development benefits of prevention, it said.

“This is an opportunity to accelerate the impact of our lead poisoning prevention work,” said Erin Guay, executive director of Healthy Androscoggin. “While Lewiston and Auburn still have the first and third highest numbers of Maine children under the age of 3 years who are poisoned by lead, respectively, these numbers have come down over time.

"This grant allows us to use the experience and skills of national experts so we can bring home tailored solutions that have the best chance of working here in the twin cities."

She said the lessons will also be shared with local and statewide partners.

Healthy Androscoggin is also coordinating a collaborative problem-solving process, funded by the Environmental Protection Agency, that has brought together more than 60 community members from diverse professional backgrounds to develop priorities and strategies to improve Lewiston’s housing stock. For example, local partners are researching incentives to increase owner occupancy in multi-unit housing, the release said.

Through other funding sources, Healthy Androscoggin offers healthy housing classes for tenants and property owners, and provides in-home resident education to families who live in units enrolled in Lewiston and Auburn’s federal lead hazard control grant program.

To date more than 5,000 residents have received some form of education. The organization also provides resources for landlords on its website, including ways to remove lead from older buildings.

Partners supporting the initiative and enhancing its guidance include representatives from Altarum, ChangeLab Solutions, Earthjustice, the Environmental Defense Fund and the National League of Cities. 

The National Center for Healthy Housing’s Equipping Communities for Action Initiative is funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation with additional support from The New York Community Trust. The National Center for Healthy Housing is a nonprofit dedicated to securing healthy homes for all.

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