Durbin, Menendez Urge EPA to Toughen Lead Hazard Standards
WASHINGTON – With reports of children exposed to dangerous levels of lead on the rise across the country, U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Bob Menendez (D-NJ) today called on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to update its lead hazard standards in an effort to protect children from dangerous lead exposure. In a letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, the senators expressed concern that current standards are outdated and do not adequately protect children from lead poisoning, which is known to cause irreversible and long-term developmental delays and behavioral problems.
“We are concerned that the Environmental Protection Agency’s (Agency) current lead hazard standards, such as lead-contaminated dust and lead-contaminated soil, are ineffective and do not reflect the best and most recent scientific evidence available,” wrote the senators. “Without reliable, safe, and protective standards in place, we are incapable of protecting children from lead poisoning and its devastating consequences. We urge the Agency to conduct a thorough review of its current regulations related to lead standards and expedite revisions accordingly.”
Earlier this year, Senators Durbin and Menendez joined U.S. Representatives Mike Quigley (D-IL) and Keith Ellison (D-MN) in introducing legislation to combat lead exposure and poisoning in children in federal low-income housing programs. Last month, the Department of Housing and Urban Development unveiled a new initiative that implements many of the reforms outlined in the Lead-Safe Housing for Kids Act of 2016, including the revision of the Lead Safe Housing Rule to match the CDC standard.
Full text of letter is available below:
The Honorable Gina McCarthy
Environmental Protection Agency
Office of the Administrator, Room 1101A
1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20460
Dear Administrator McCarthy:
We write regarding the urgent need to update lead hazard standards to prevent childhood lead poisoning. We are concerned that the Environmental Protection Agency’s (Agency) current lead hazard standards, such as lead-contaminated dust and lead-contaminated soil, are ineffective and do not reflect the best and most recent scientific evidence available. Without reliable, safe, and protective standards in place, we are incapable of protecting children from lead poisoning and its devastating consequences. We urge the Agency to conduct a thorough review of its current regulations related to lead standards and expedite revisions accordingly.
In the Toxic Substances Control Act and the Residential Lead-Based Paint Hazard Reduction Act, Congress required the Agency to promulgate standards for the identification of lead hazards, including lead-based paint, lead-contaminated dust, and lead-contaminated soil. In 2001, the Agency promulgated lead hazard standards that defined the allowable levels of lead as 40 µg/ft2 (micrograms per square foot) for floor dust, 250 µg/ft2 for windowsill dust, and 400 µg/g (micrograms per gram) for play areas and 1200 µg/g for foundation perimeters. While these standards purported to define what was “normal” and “safe,” they were in direct contravention to the prevailing science at the time they were adopted, and they continue to lag behind prevailing science today. Numerous scientific studies have demonstrated that these standards fail to protect children from lead poisoning and the resulting permanent disabilities. The American Academy of Pediatrics recently evaluated the Agency’s longstanding lead standards and determined that they “fail to protect children from lead toxicity” and “provide an illusion of safety.”
It is widely known and accepted that lead hazards present an urgent health and safety threat to children. Lead poisoning causes significant health, neurological, behavior, intellectual, and academic impairments. Last month, a CBS Evening News segment chronicled the trauma and life-long disabilities endured by a six-year-old boy in Chicago who was exposed to lead hazards in multiple homes, including those that were federally assisted housing. Sadly, he is not alone. Over half a million children under the age of six have blood lead levels exceeding 5 µg/dL (micrograms per deciliter) and will face similar hardship throughout their lives. Each year in New Jersey alone, more than 3,000 children are poisoned due to lead exposure. There is nothing we can do to reverse the effects of lead poisoning for these children, but we have both an opportunity and an obligation to ensure other children are protected from lead exposure.
We are concerned that the Agency and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) justified adoption of the current lead hazard standards because they were feasible to attain and not because they would be the safest or most protective of vulnerable children. Since that time, modern science has proven that lower standards are not only feasible, but also critically necessary. The Agency demonstrated its understanding of this in a 2009 letter in response to a citizens’ petition for rulemaking, wherein it pledged to update its lead hazard standards based on current science. However, the Agency has yet to take necessary actions.
We are encouraged by HUD’s recent efforts to better align lead-based paint hazard standards with the most recent prevailing science; however, without a corresponding update to the Agency’s dust and soil standards, we are concerned that such efforts will do little to prevent lead poisoning.
We urge the Agency to carefully review its current regulations, procedures, and protocols related to lead hazards and take immediate action to update these outdated and deficient standards in order to ensure children are adequately protected against lead exposure.
Please provide a response no later than July 29, 2016.
Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.
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