EPA Sets New Lead Standard
Last Friday (June 21), the United States Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler and U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson announced new standards for lead, specifically found in dust on floors, windowsills and miscellaneous surfaces to protect children from its harmful effects.
“[The] EPA is delivering on our commitment in the Trump Administration’s Federal Lead Action Plan to take important steps to reduce childhood lead exposure,” said Wheeler.
“Today’s final rule is the first time in nearly two decades EPA is issuing a stronger, more protective standard for lead dust in homes and childcare facilities across the country.”
The announcement was made at the St. Joseph Health Department in St. Joseph, Missouri.
Developing New Standards
Back in 2008, the EPA released the Lead-Based Paint Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule. The RRP (amended in 2010 and 2011) aimed to protect the public from any and all lead-based coating hazards associated with renovation, various repairs and activity. The rule officially went into effect on April 22, 2010.
In 2009, petitioners requested that the EPA provide more adequate protection for children by providing more stringent lead paint standards. By 2011, the EPA acknowledged this need but failed to provide a timetable or made any moves to propose a new rule.
Almost four years after the first rule went into effect, the EPA released Energy Savings Plus Health: Indoor Air Quality Guidelines for School Building Upgrades, a guide providing action plans for 23 building upgrade scenarios that includes assessment protocols and measures to be taken to ensure the safety of children.
The following year, in 2015, the EPA launched a new mobile app that would help to assist schools in performing air quality facility assessments. The School IAQ Assessment app served as a “one-stop-shop” for access to guidance from the EPA’s Indoor Air Quality Tools for Schools Action Kit.
Although the EPA took further steps to crack down on its RRP rule in June 2016, by August, petitioners were still dissatisfied and requested that a court rule that the EPA’s delay for a new rule was unreasonable. Following their request, in January 2018 a San Francisco-based federal appeals court ordered the EPA to act within the next 90 days to revise the lead paint standards to better protect children.
By June 2018, the EPA released another proposal to the dust-lead hazard standards; the action was stemmed from a December 2017 ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which ruled that the agency must reevaluate the risks from lead paint.
This was in response to a lawsuit filed in August 2016 against the EPA by a coalition of environmental and community-led organizations, who charged that the EPA had duties to uphold regarding the Toxic Substances Control Act and its amendments contained in the Paint Hazard Act.
The court ultimately ordered the EPA to revise its hazard standards for household dust that contains lead and modify its definition of lead-based paint, based on updated research that had come to light since 2001, when the agency last set its standards.
“Reducing childhood lead exposure is a top priority for EPA,” said former Administrator Scott Pruitt.
“Lead-contaminated dust from chipped and peeling lead-based paint is one of the most common causes of elevated blood lead levels in children. Strengthening the standards for lead in dust is an important component of EPA’s strategy to curtail childhood lead exposure.”
By October, Wheeler signed a memorandum stating the Reaffirmation of the EPA’s 1995 Policy on Evaluating Health Risks to Children. The document is a reassurance that the EPA and its Office of Children’s Health Protection would be continuing its role in collaborating with states, tribes and local governments to provide solutions to further promote healthy and thriving children and communities.
In late December, Wheeler and Carson were joined by the U.S. Health and Human Services Deputy Secretary Eric Hargan in announcing the Trump administration’s plan to reduce lead exposure to children.
The “Federal Lead Action Plan to Reduce Childhood Lead Exposures and Associated Impacts (Lead Action Plan)” was created to aim as a blueprint for reducing lead exposure and related harm by working with states, local communities, businesses, property owners and parents.
The plan outlined four goals, which include:
By March 2019, the EPA proposed a new $50 million grant program to expand the Trump Administration’s Fiscal Year 2020 budget efforts to protect children in an educational environment. The Healthy Schools Grant Program will help to support the EPA’s steps toward evaluating and addressing various children’s health risks within learning facilities, including exposure to lead.
In a statement about the program, Wheeler said, “This grant program would help schools, especially those in underserved communities, reduce exposures to environmental hazards, create healthier learning environments and ensure children can reach their fullest potential.”
What’s Happening Now
To continue to protect children’s health and make progress on the dust-lead issue, the EPA has lowered the dust-lead hazard standards from 40 micrograms of lead per square foot to 10 micrograms per square foot on floors and from 250 micrograms to 100 micrograms on windowsills.
“Today’s final rule is an important step needed to reduce childhood lead exposure in schools and childcare facilities across our country,” said EPA Region 7 Administrator Jim Gulliford.
“Recognizing that all Americans deserve an opportunity to live in safe and healthy environments, EPA Region 7 is committed to continuing a collaborative approach with our city, state and federal partners to address this threat and protect the health of our nation’s most vulnerable—our children.”
The new standard will apply to all inspections, risk assessments and abatement activities in various hospitals, childcare facilities, certain schools and housing built before 1978.
This rule will become effective 180 days after the date of publication in the Federal Register.