EPA Announces Lead Exposure Initiative
Earlier this month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced the official launch of a nationwide training and outreach initiative focused on reducing childhood lead exposure.
Taking place for a second year, the Enhancing Lead-Safe Work Practices through Education and Outreach (ELSWPEO) program is part of the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to advance environmental justice.
The announcement arrives as the EPA observes Children’s Health Month and prepares for National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week later this month.
“This initiative demonstrates how collaboration between national, state, local and Tribal governments and organizations can protect underserved communities from exposure to toxic chemicals like lead,” said Michal Freedhoff, Assistant Administrator for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. “Many communities across the U.S. are still at risk for lead exposure, and we are committed to lowering and preventing it.”
According to the news release, the EPA will offer free training on lead-safe work practices, which include renovation, repair and painting (RRP) lead-safe certification trainings and Lead Awareness Curriculum sessions to contractors in 10 communities across the nation and its territories.
The communities chosen for involvement due to having known lead exposure issues and a demonstrated need for RRP-certified contractors include: Stratford, Connecticut; Loíza, Puerto Rico; Arecibo, Puerto Rico; Newark, New Jersey; Portsmouth, Virginia; Miami, Florida; Toledo, Ohio; St. Louis, Missouri; Billings, Montana (with a focus on tribal members); and Sacramento, California.
Additionally, the Agency will engage community members and leaders on strategies for protecting children from lead exposure. ELSWPEO has a two-pronged approach to reduce childhood lead exposure:
As part of the program, two sessions will be offered. These include a Lead Awareness Curriculum Train-the-Trainer session, which is designed to equip community leaders to educate their communities about lead and lead exposure, as well as actions to reduce and prevent childhood exposure. An Understanding Lead session will educate community members interested in learning more about lead, lead exposure and actions to reduce their exposure.
Last year, the program was reported to complete ELSWPEO outreach in 11 communities. In total, the EPA helped to certify 282 contractors in lead-safe work practices and educated 245 community leaders and 170 community members.
The initiative will complement the historic investment of $4 billion to reduce lead exposure from President Joe Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure law and support the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to ensuring all Americans can live in healthy homes.
Health Effects of Lead Paint
While the use of lead-based paints was banned over 40 years ago, the remnants of lead paint continue to be a major environmental and public health problem.
In 1971, Congress passed the first federal regulation on lead paint with The Lead-Based Paint Poisoning Prevention Act. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission issued a final ban in 1978 for consumer and residential uses of lead-based paints, with some states banning even earlier.
Following the ban, the Occupation Safety and Health Administration and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health prioritized protecting workers from lead poisoning. Workers would also carry lead dust home on their clothes, shoes, hair and skin, causing “take-home” exposure that was nearly impossible to detect as it looked like regular dust.
The Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation estimated that in 2019, lead exposure counted for 900,000 deaths and 21.7 million years of healthy life lost worldwide due to long-term effects on health. New rules and regulations continue to make lead poisoning a focus and educate the public to protect themselves from its health effects.
Lead can be swallowed, inhaled or absorbed through the skin, with inhalation being the largest intake of lead. The lead is then stored in the bones, blood and tissue, where it is released back into our body over time.
A small level of lead in an adult’s system is less than 10 mcg/dL. Anything higher than that number and up to 25 mcg/dL is an indicator of regular lead exposure, while 80 mcg/dL or higher requires medical treatment. However, lower levels can also present symptoms of lead poisoning.
In a 2019 study, approximately 30 out of every 100,000 working adults had a blood lead level great than or equal to 5 mg/dL. According to NIOSH’s Adult Blood Lead Exposure Surveillance (ABLES) program, four of the largest industries with lead exposure cases include construction, manufacturing, mining and services (e-waste recycling or firing ranges).
For children and those who are pregnant, those levels should be much lower as there is higher risk. A level of five mcg/dL can cause development problems for an unborn child, while children are at risk with 3.5 mcg/dL of lead in their blood.
Over time, high levels of lead in the bloodstream can cause serious health conditions:
The CDC also reports that the Department of Health and Human Services, the EPA and the International Agency for Research on Cancer have determined that lead is probably cancer-causing in humans
EPA Lead Paint Standards, Recent Safety Measures
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 RRP rule protects residents of pre-1978 homes from lead-based paint disturbed during renovation, repair or painting activities. The rule requires that firms that perform or offer to perform renovations in pre-1978 houses need to be certified by the EPA and assign individuals who have been trained to use lead-safe work practices; disclose important safety information to residents prior to the work; and document their compliance with the rule.
The rule officially went into effect on April 22, 2010.
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.
In June 2019, former EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler and U.S. Housing and former 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.
To continue to protect children’s health and make progress on the dust-lead issue, the EPA 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.
The new standard applies to all inspections, risk assessments and abatement activities in various hospitals, childcare facilities, certain schools and housing built before 1978.
In January 2021, 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 was approved and the new standards were incorporated into the Section 402/404 lead-based paint activity regulations as well as the Section 1018 real estate disclosure regulations.
In October, the EPA launched a new training initiative, Enhancing Lead-Safe Work Practices through Education and Outreach, in Southern California communities.
The following month the EPA announced plans to hold property management companies (PMCs) responsible for lead-based paint safety requirements.
The notice intends to improve compliance and strengthen enforcement of the lead-based paint Renovation, Repair and Painting (RRP) Rule and the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) as they apply to PMCs that perform, offer or claim to perform regulated renovations without certification from the EPA in pre-1978 housing or child-occupied facilities.
In January of this year the EPA announced plans to proceed with the withdrawal of previously published answers to two Frequently Asked Questions concerning property management companies and their compliance responsibility under the Toxic Substances Control Act and the Lead Renovation Repair and Painting Rule.
On March 21, the withdrawal of the FAQs affirmed the EPA’s decision to hold PMCs and the contractors they hire responsible for TSCA and RRP rule compliance, should the circumstances indicate that both entities performed or offered to perform renovations for compensation in target pre-1978 housing or child-occupied facilities.
These types of projects are required to have certifications obtained from the EPA to ensure that renovations are performed by certified firms and employees trained to use lead-safe work practices.
“Providing equal protections for all communities from the dangers of lead-based paint means we need to hold everyone equally accountable for following the requirements of the RRP rule,” said Michal Freedhoff, Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, at the time. “Following lead-safe work practices will help reduce exposure to lead and keep children and workers healthy.”
In June, OSHA published an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to revise its standards for occupational exposure to lead.
According to the news release, recent medical studies on workplace lead exposure revealed that adverse health effects could occur in adults at lower blood lead levels than what was previously recognized in the medical removal levels specified in OSHA’s lead standards.
To reduce the triggers more effectively for medical removal protection and medical surveillance, as well as to prevent harmful health effects in workers exposed to lead, the ANPRM is looking for public input on modifying current OSHA lead standards for general industry and construction.
Specifically, OSHA is requesting that the public comment on the following areas of the lead standards:
Online comments are to be in reference to Docket No. OSHA-2018-0004 and were due by Aug. 29 on the federal e-Rulemaking portal.