Washington, DC — In one of its most far-reaching public health initiatives, the Bush administration today adopted rules requiring that repairs and renovations in pre-1978 housing and child-care facilities are done in a lead-safe manner. These lead-safe repair and renovation rules were finalized under a settlement of a lawsuit brought by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
An estimated 20 to 30 million older-home repair projects each year are done without lead-safe cleanup and contamination practices. In February 2000, the President’s Task Force on Environmental Health Risks and Safety Risks to Children found that—
- Lead-safe renovation practices are the key to protecting the largest number of children;
- Dust and soil tainted by lead paint are now the main sources of childhood lead exposure; and
- The benefits of eliminating these lead paint hazards far outweigh the costs.
By law, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency EPA was supposed to adopt lead-safe regulations for repairs and renovations in older housing by October 28, 1996. In 2005, EPA secretly made a decision to abandon developing the belated rules altogether. Tipped by agency employees, PEER exposed the dereliction and later that year sued the agency to force compliance.
In following through on its settlement with PEER, EPA today enacted lead training, certification, and lead-safe work practice requirements for contractors on all pre-1978 single and multiple-unit dwellings. In addition, day-care centers and other child-occupied buildings are covered.
“While these rules are long overdue, they are urgently needed,” said PEER Senior Counsel Paula Dinerstein, who negotiated the settlement, pointing to EPA estimates that the rules will protect 1.4 million children under age 7 living in 4.9 million residential units. “The terrible physical, mental and behavioral effects of childhood exposure to lead dust are completely preventable by basic safeguards such as were adopted today.”
In addition to the PEER suit, EPA faced congressional pressure. Prompted by blood elevated blood lead levels of alarming proportions in older cities such as Chicago and New York, Senators Barack Obama (D-IL) and Hillary Clinton (D-NY) forced EPA to commit to proposing lead-safe repair rules back in January 2006, but it has taken EPA more than two years to finalize that proposal with today’s action.
“This is the final step in our national strategy for eliminating childhood lead poisoning,” Dinerstein added. “The hard work of implementing these rules will be left to the next administration.”