Washington, DC — Two state attorney generals are publicly objecting to the decision by Acting Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Stephen Johnson to abandon proposed rules protecting urban children and residential construction workers from the hazards of lead-based paint, according to letters released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). In an unannounced move last year, Johnson, who has been nominated by President Bush to become EPA Administrator, scrapped long-stalled requirements that certified contractors using workers trained in lead-safe practices do all remodeling in buildings constructed before 1978.
In an April 7, 2005 letter, New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer stated, “EPA’s failure to issue lead-safe renovation regulations is a breach of the public trust and presents a significant and avoidable threat to tenants and homeowners throughout the nation.” Spitzer noted that New York has the nation’s highest number and percentage of older homes and its children have unhealthful levels of lead in their blood at twice the national average, with some areas exhibiting childhood “lead poisoning rates as high as 20%.”
The principal source of lead dust exposure to U.S. children is renovation and repair of older residences, which have a much higher prevalence of lead-based paint. Federal studies indicate that the vast majority of an estimated 20 to 30 million older-home repair projects each year are done without lead-safe cleanup and contamination practices. Consequently, these renovations kick up significant amounts of lead dust that permeates carpets, ductwork and soil, creating both short and long-term exposure to residents.
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan wrote in an April 5, 2005 letter, “Each
year Illinois reports the highest number of lead poisoned children in the nation.”
She called upon Johnson to make a “personal commitment to ensure that
EPA undertakes” the long overdue renovation safeguards and warned, “Unless
EPA’s leadership is restored, the 2010 goal of protecting all children
from lead poisoning will remain beyond reach.”
Under the Toxic Substances Control Act, the deadline for EPA to adopt regulations governing “renovation or remodeling activities” was October 28, 1996. Although behind schedule, EPA continued to develop regulations through 2003. In 2004, Johnson, disregarding his own legal counsel’s advice, completely dropped plans for renovation regulations in favor of a yet to be developed voluntary approach.
“Lead will be a litmus test for whether Stephen Johnson will be a decent EPA Administrator,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch whose organization last month disclosed internal agency documents outlining Johnson’s role in the behind-closed-doors decision. “If EPA continues to shirk its legal and public health obligations, the agency will be forced by litigation to do what they should have done in 1996.”