Washington, DC — In a move with major public health impact, the Bush administration has promised to finalize rules requiring that repairs and renovations in pre-1978 housing and child-care facilities are done in a lead-safe manner, according to a legal settlement reached with Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). When fully implemented, the lead-safe standards will close the principal pathway by which children in millions of homes across the U.S. are exposed to lead dust.
Dust thrown up in renovation and repair of older residences permeates carpeting, ductwork and soil, so that children breathe the dust for months. In cities with older housing bases, such as St. Louis and New York, an alarming percentage of children suffer from elevated blood lead levels. In Chicago, for example, more than 20% of children under age five have blood levels above those associated with harmful health effects, such as mental retardation, stunted growth and premature death.
According to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates obtained by PEER –
- Each year, 1.4 million children under age seven are at risk of lead exposure due to unsafe repair and renovations;
- 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; and
- Lead-safe repair rules will create a net benefit of between $2.7 and $4.1 billion annually by preventing illnesses, disability and premature death.
“By their scope, these rules will not only be one of the largest public health regulatory endeavors of the Bush administration but it will also be one of the most cost beneficial,” stated PEER Senior Counsel Paula Dinerstein, who negotiated the settlement. “Needlessly exposing millions of our children to lead dust is a national tragedy.”
By law, EPA was supposed to adopt lead-safe regulations for repairs and renovations in older housing by October 28, 1996. Up until 2005, EPA claimed that, while tardy, it was still working to develop rules. That year, however, PEER discovered the EPA public statements were false because the agency had made a secret decision to abandon the rules altogether. PEER filed suit against EPA in December 2005. Facing the PEER suit and political pressure led by Senators Barack Obama (D-IL) and Hillary Clinton (D-NY), EPA finally proposed lead repair and renovation rules in January 2006 but has yet to act.
In its settlement with PEER, EPA committed to impose lead training, certification, and lead-safe work practice requirements for contractors on all pre-1978 single- and multiple-unit dwellings. In addition, the agency agreed to cover day-care centers and other child-occupied buildings that were omitted from its original proposal. These rules would become final by March 31, 2008, subject to possible extensions that could not go beyond July 31, 2008.
“While these rules are not perfect, they are a big stride toward our national goal of eliminating childhood lead poisoning,” Dinerstein added.
A joint stipulation based upon the settlement resolving the suit was filed today in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Joining PEER in filing suit was a coalition of community and public health groups: the Maine Lead Action Project, The Lead and Environmental Hazards Association (Olney, MD), Improving Kids’ Environment (Indianapolis), Project 504 (Minneapolis), Group 14621 Community Association, Inc. (Rochester), Organization of the New Eastside (Indianapolis), and the Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry (Cleveland).