EPA Proposes Improving Lead Paint Standards
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently announced a proposal to strengthen requirements for the removal of lead-based paint hazards to protect against childhood lead exposure. These abatement activities, if finalized, are estimated to reduce the lead exposures of approximately 250,000 to 500,000 children under age six per year.
“The Biden-Harris Administration is taking a whole-of-government approach to ensuring that the most vulnerable among us—our children—are protected from exposure to lead,” said EPA Deputy Administrator Janet McCabe.
“This proposal to safely remove lead paint along with our other efforts to deliver clean drinking water and replace lead pipes will go a long way toward protecting the health of our next generation of leaders.”
About the Rule
According to the release, if finalized, the proposed rule would strengthen the EPA’s regulations under section 402 of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) by revising the dust-lead hazard standards (DLHS), which identify hazardous lead in dust on floors and window sills, and the dust-lead clearance levels (DLCL), the amount of lead that can remain in dust on floors, window sills and window troughs after lead removal activities.
The proposal would reduce the DLHS from 10 micrograms per square foot (µg/ft2) for floors and 100 µg/ft2 for window sills to any reportable level greater than zero in recognition of the fact that there is no level of lead in dust that has been found to be safe for children.
Additionally, the rule would lower the DLCL from 10 µg/ft2 to 3 µg/ft2 for floors, from 100 µg/ft2 to 20 µg/ft2 for window sills and from 400 µg/ft2 to 25 µg/ft2 for window troughs, which are the lowest post-abatement dust-lead levels that the agency believes can be reliably and effectively achieved.
Breaking News: The EPA proposed strict new rules on lead-based paint in homes and child care centers, requiring removal if any amount of lead dust is found. The agency estimates that 31 million pre-1978 houses still contain lead-based paint. https://t.co/BEbiiJdmIE— The New York Times (@nytimes) July 12, 2023
“There is no safe level of lead. Even low levels are detrimental to children’s health, and this proposal would bring us closer to eradicating lead-based paint hazards from homes and child care facilities across the U.S. once and for all,” said Assistant Administrator for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention Michal Freedhoff.
Property owners, lead-based paint professionals and government agencies reportedly use the DLHS to identify dust-lead hazards in residential and childcare facilities built before 1978. If a lead-based paint activity such as abatement is performed, the EPA's Lead-Based Paint Activities Program requires individuals and firms performing the abatement to be certified and follow specific work practices.
Following abatement, testing is then required to ensure dust lead levels are below the DLCL before an abatement can be considered complete.
Historically, the EPA reports that the DLHS and DLCL have been set at the same levels. However, the latest action proposes to decouple the DLHS and the DLCL, which were last updated in 2019 and 2021, respectively.
The agency adds that this is being done in accordance with a May 2021 Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals opinion, which explains that DLHS must be based solely on health factors, while the DLCL must consider the additional factors of safety, effectiveness and reliability.
Although the federal government banned lead-based paint for residential use in 1978, the agency estimates that 31 million pre-1978 houses still contain lead-based paint, and 3.8 million of them have one or more children under the age of 6 living there.
The EPA will accept public comments on the proposal for 60 days following publication via docket EPA-HQ-OPPT-2023-0231.
The EPA and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development also plan on hosting a virtual public workshop in October to hear stakeholder perspectives on specific topics related to low levels of lead in existing paint. The topics include the potential health effects, the relationship between lead-based paint and dust-lead, possible exposure pathways, as well as technologies for detection, measurement, and characterization of low levels of lead in paint.
Additionally, the EPA and HUD are interested in any available information on lead-based paint characteristics and medical evidence related to low levels of lead in paint. These departments will use information shared during the workshop to inform their joint effort to revisit the federal definition of lead-based paint and revise it, if necessary.
Lead Pipe and Paint Action Plan
At the end of 2021, the White House released its Lead Pipe and Paint Action Plan as part of the bipartisan infrastructure law, to deliver clean drinking water, replace lead pipes and remediate lead paint. The goal of the plan is to replace all lead pipes in the next decade.
According to the White House, at the time, approximately 10 million American households and 400,000 schools land childcare centers are served by a lead service line or pipe. About 24 million housing units have lead-based paint hazards, which reportedly 4 million of house young children.
The plan, according to the White House Fact Sheet, features 15 new actions with more than 10 federal agencies. These actions are divided into three categories: getting resources to communities; updating rules and strengthening enforcement; and reducing exposure in disadvantaged communities, schools, daycare centers and public housing, including:
The Cabinet Level Partnership for Lead Remediation in Schools and Childcare Centers will include partnerships between the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Education, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the USDA.
In terms of funding, in addition to the $350 billion provided in the American Rescue Plan, the White House is investing:
The White House states that low-income people and communities of color are disproportionately exposed to the risks of lead-contaminated drinking water, including Non-Hispanic Black people being more than twice as likely as Non-Hispanic White people to live in moderately or severely substandard housing.
The EPA’s 2021 Economic Analysis on the benefits of lead service line replacement showed significant increases in lifetime earnings, associated with avoided intelligence quotient (IQ) loss in children, as well as reduced risks of cardiovascular disease, kidney disease and other adverse health effects.