Washington, DC — For the past eleven years, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has illegally delayed rules to close the main pathway for lead exposure in children, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Nevertheless, in an October 19, 2007 news release observing National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week, the agency blithely trumpets the importance of reducing “lead-paint hazards in housing”— the very danger it is studiously shying away from confronting.
EPA concedes that the greatest danger of lead exposure to children is from inhaling or ingesting lead-paint dust or chips in older housing. Yet by law, EPA was supposed to have adopted lead-safe regulations for repairs and renovations before October 28, 1996. However, as 2008 nears, no rules are in place.
In 2005, EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson secretly abandoned the already overdue rules. In December 2005, PEER filed suit against EPA. In January 2006, EPA finally proposed lead-safe repair rules but —
- The proposed rules remain in limbo;
- EPA’s proposal is riddled with loopholes, such as omitting coverage of schools and medical facilities. The agency has belatedly moved to include day-care centers; and
- EPA has taken the position in court that it can no longer be legally compelled to act, arguing that the statute of limitations ran out back in 2002.
“The principal reason that we will fail to achieve our national goal of eliminating childhood lead poisoning by 2010 is EPA’s dereliction of duty,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “EPA’s own internal studies show that every year 1.4 million American children are at risk of lead exposure from unsafe repair practices yet it continues to drag its feet.”
Last week’s EPA news release points out the health risks of elevated blood-lead levels:
“Lead is a highly toxic element that cause [sic] a range of health effects, from behavioral problems and learning disabilities, to seizures and death. Children six and under are most at risk because their bodies are growing quickly.”
Although there has admittedly been much progress in reducing lead poisoning among American youth, in many cities, such as Chicago, St. Louis and New York, with older housing bases, a significant percentage of children suffer from the effects of elevated blood lead levels.
“The Bush administration is so phobic about any new regulation that it is willing to leave thousands of children behind,” Ruch added, noting that approximately 30 million older-home repair projects are done each year without lead-safe cleanup or containment practices, yet EPA analyses show that implementing lead-safe regulations would be hugely cost beneficial. “For a Stephen Johnson-led EPA to tout its lead poisoning prevention record scales new heights of hypocrisy.”