Washington, DC — Facing a lawsuit and growing congressional pressure, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has proposed a rule for lead-safe repair and renovation that has more loopholes than protection, according to comments filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) and the Organization of the New Eastside in Indianapolis. The public comment period on the EPA plan closes tomorrow but the outcome will likely be decided by a federal court and not the agency.
Elevated lead blood levels in children can cause mental retardation, stunted growth and premature death. Lead-based paint hazards, such as contaminated dust and soil from renovations, have the highest causation rate for childhood lead poisoning. In many of our older cities, such as New York, St. Louis and Chicago, a significant percentage of children suffer from effects of elevated blood lead levels.
Last December, PEER and a coalition of community and public health groups sued EPA in federal court to end a decade of delay in enacting rules to address one of the principal pathways for lead exposure. In January 2006, EPA finally proposed a rule that covered only housing occupied by children under age 6, unless the housing was built before 1960 (even though the law requires coverage for all pre-1978 housing). Thus, EPA’s plan omitted protections for —
- Day care centers, as well as any commercial or public buildings;
- Housing occupied by pregnant women or children over age 6; and
- Vacant buildings that could later be occupied by families with young children.
EPA’s rule is so narrow because the Bush administration opposes any regulation with a significant regulatory impact, regardless of the public health costs. EPA’s own economic studies (which have never been officially released) show that broad lead-safe repair rules would generate a net economic benefit of between $2.7 and $4.1 billion per year, from reduced illness and increased productivity.
“The Bush administration’s neglect of lead-safe housing borders on the criminal,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that EPA concedes that 1.4 million children are at risk for lead exposure due to unsafe repairs and renovations. “How can EPA put forward with a straight face a lead plan that ignores day care centers and pregnant women?”
Litigation on the PEER suit will likely continue into early next year. In the meantime, the National Association of Home Builders has intervened in the action to argue against a strict interpretation of the law requiring that all of the estimated 20 to 30 million older-home repair projects each year are done without lead-safe cleanup and contamination practices.
“EPA was supposed to have had a comprehensive lead-safe repair rule in place a decade ago, in 1996,” Ruch added. “One question before the court is whether EPA can now selectively implement only the portions of the Toxic Substances Control Act that do not offend the National Association of Home Builders.”