EPA Announces Final Lead Abatement Rule
At the end of last month, the EPA announced the final rule to lower the clearance levels for the amount of lead that can remain in dust on floors and windowsills after lead abatement.
EPA’s new clearance levels are 10 micrograms of lead in dust per square foot for floor dust and 100 micrograms per square foot for windowsill dust, significantly lower than the previous levels of 40 micrograms per square foot for floor dust and 250 micrograms per square foot for windowsill dust.
“These new clearance levels will reduce lead dust-related risks to children in pre-1978 homes and childcare facilities where lead abatement activities take place,” the EPA noted in its press release. “After actions are taken to remove lead from a building, those buildings must then be tested to make sure that the cleaning activities were successful. These ‘clearance levels’ indicate that lead dust was effectively removed at the end of the abatement work.”
The standards have been incorporated into the Section 402/404 lead-based paint activity regulations as well as the Section 1018 real estate disclosure regulations.
The new clearance levels were initially announced in June 2019 by United States Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler and U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson.
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.”
Then, in the June 2019 announcement, officials said that the new standard would apply to all inspections, risk assessments and abatement activities in various hospitals, childcare facilities, certain schools and housing built before 1978.