Environment & Energy Report

EPA Tightens Lead Dust Standards to Protect Kids (1)

June 25, 2018, 11:02 PMUpdated: June 25, 2018, 11:36 PM

The EPA opted for stricter limits for lead dust on floors and windowsills but declined to adjust its definition of lead-based paint, saying it lacks enough information.

The standards would apply to most pre-1978 housing and child-occupied facilities, such as day-care centers and kindergarten facilities, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Lead is a neurotoxin that negatively affects learning, cognition, behavior, and growth at sufficient doses of exposure.

Children’s health advocates have long pressed for stricter lead standards, citing Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance that suggests any amount of lead exposure is harmful. Construction industry representatives have pointed out the costs of remediating old housing and urged EPA to use sound science in its approach to lead.

Dropped but Not to Zero

The EPA is proposing to lower its acceptable lead-in-dust standards to 10 micrograms per square foot on floors, down from the current standard of 40, and 100 micrograms on windowsills, down from 250.

“It is an important step forward for children’s health that EPA has proposed a standard which will lower the amounts of lead in dust and windowsills, which they did in response to a lawsuit by Earthjustice,” Tracey Woodruff, director of the University of California’s Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment, told Bloomberg Environment.

Best Science?

Nancy Beck, deputy assistant administrator for chemical safety and pollution prevention at EPA, said June 25 a proposed new definition of how much lead needs to be in paint to be called “lead-based paint” and new cleanup standards for lead-paint dust will soon be published in the Federal Register. The proposal will be open for public comment for 45 days.

The EPA released the proposed rule late June 22 after it was sued for unreasonable delays in updating those standards, Beck said during a webinar on the Toxic Substances Control Act. The standards the administration is proposing will be more protective and will reflect the best available science on the human health effects from lead exposures, she said.

But Woodruff, a scientist and former EPA official, takes issue with that view of the science. “There is no safe level of lead exposure to children, so while progress has been made, there is still more to do.”

“Hopefully we can learn from the tragic lesson of allowing lead to be put into paint in the first place, that we need to make sure that chemicals and metals do not pose a risk to children’s health before they are widely used and children exposed,” she added.

Definition Used to Target Inspections

The agency said information was inadequate to propose a revision to the federal definition of lead-based paint. The government defines lead-based paint as any “paint, surface coating that contains lead equal to or exceeding 1 milligram per square centimeter or 0.5 percent by weight.”

The definition is woven through other EPA requirements and can be used, for example, to help inspectors target properties where lead-based paint may be a concern, the agency said.

The proposed rule will impact remodeling, painting, and construction firms that work in older buildings.

The EPA issued its new, proposed dust standards following a Dec. 27, 2017, ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The court said the agency had taken too long to act on a 2009 administrative petition from environmental and health groups that wanted the EPA to further restrict lead paint limitations.

(Updated with additional reaction from health advocates.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Pat Rizzuto in Washington at prizzuto@bloombergenvironment.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rachael Daigle at rdaigle@bloombergenvironment.com

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