Durbin Discusses New Initiatives to Address High Rates of Lead Exposure in Cities

Durbin’s bills to update regulations at EPA and HUD are part of larger push by Senate Democrats to combat lead contamination

CHICAGO – U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) today highlighted new initiatives to protect children in affordable housing from lead poisoning and update the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) lead and copper regulations to establish mandatory lead testing of pipes and water in cities—large and small—across the country. The measures will be part of a larger effort being crafted by Senate Democrats to re-commit the federal government to investing in water infrastructure and lead remediation.

“The contaminated water crisis in Flint, Michigan, was a wakeup call to all of us about how important it is to ensure we have proper protections in place and the necessary resources to address lead contamination. It's is a tragic example of what happens when we focus too much on spending cuts and undermine regulations meant to protect families,” Durbin said. “We have to bring outdated lead standards up to date and consistent with the latest science. That’s why I’m working on common sense reforms to keep families and children safe. Access to clean water and safe housing should not be determined by your zip code.”


Lead-Safe Housing for Kids Act
Durbin and U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) joined U.S. Representatives Keith Ellison (D-MN) and Mike Quigley (D-IL) in introducing legislation to help combat the tragic lead exposure and poisoning in children in federal low-income housing programs.  The Lead-Safe Housing for Kids Act of 2016 would require Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to update its lead regulations to match standards set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Earlier this year, the Chicago Tribune reported that federal housing policies, particularly for Section 8 housing, were putting children at risk of lead poisoning because HUD’s intervention standard for federally assisted housing is 20 micrograms per deciliter (µg/dL) – four times the CDC’s threshold of 5 µg/dL At least 180 children in Section 8 housing have fallen victim to this mismatch between the CDC’s standard and HUD’s outdated standards since 2012 in Chicago alone. 

Since the enactment of federal lead policies in the 1990s, lead poisoning rates have fallen dramatically.  However, lead poisoning risk continues to disproportionally impact minority children that live in federally subsidized housing.  HUD’s outdated and ineffective lead standards and regulations place millions of families with children at risk of lead poisoning because they are no longer consistent with the prevailing science.

Under current HUD regulations, a landlord is not required to address lead-based paint hazards until a child’s blood lead level is four times the CDC-recommended level.  This means a landlord can continue to receive a check from the federal government while a child is being poisoned by lead day in and day out in his or her own home, leaving families to choose between remaining in unsafe housing or risking homelessness.

HUD recently announced that it is evaluating its lead regulations. Chicago Housing Authority has also announced that it is voluntarily revising its rules to align with the CDC standard. 

Read more about Durbin and Menendez’s legislation here.


Durbin and U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) introduced the Copper and Lead Evaluation, Assessment and Reporting Act of 2016 (CLEAR Act) to better protect the American public from being poisoned by its drinking water supplies. The CLEAR Act directs the EPA to develop new ways to improve the reporting, testing and monitoring of lead and copper levels in America’s drinking water.
By codifying into law the December 2015 recommendations of the National Drinking Water Advisory Council for long-term revisions to EPA standards for lead and copper, the CLEAR Act acts on broadly backed, consensus recommendations for reform.


In Chicago, nearly 80% of homes are connected to pipes that contain lead and an EPA study recently reported that protocols in the city of Chicago, which are based on Federal standards, are likely to miss high concentrations of lead in drinking water. 


Last week, the City of Chicago Department of Public Health announced it would begin a water testing program for communities with homes where children have experience lead poisoning, specifically targeting neighborhoods on the South and West side.


Read more about Durbin and Cardin’s legislation here.