EPA Eyes Tighter Lead Dust Standards for Homes and Schools


Agency finally recognizes that exposure to lead at any level is hazardous


Erin Fitzgerald, Earthjustice, efitzgerald@earthjustice.org

Today, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced it would tighten its standards for lead in dust from deteriorating lead paint in homes, schools, and daycares. EPA’s new potential hazard standard will be zero, the necessary level to truly protect health, as there is no safe level of lead exposure for children.

This science-based rule comes as a result of lawsuits Earthjustice filed on behalf of community and environmental organizations, who sued EPA for failing to establish protective standards for older housing and “child-occupied facilities,” such as schools and daycares. Thirty years ago, Congress directed EPA to set lead hazard standards and clearance levels for lead-based paint, however the agency has consistently set standards that have been too lax to protect both children and adults.

“EPA is finally proposing to do what the law requires, adopt truly protective lead standards. This is a leap forward in the country’s long-delayed efforts to eliminate lead exposures in millions of residences and childcare facilities that still have lead-based paint,” said Eve Gartner, Earthjustice’s Director of Crosscutting Toxics Strategies. “Our clients in these lawsuits are grateful and look forward to expedited finalization and implementation of this important rulemaking.”

If this rule is finalized, it would mean that whenever a lead risk assessor identifies any level of lead in a residence or childcare facility above zero, it would be identified as a “lead hazard” that requires disclosure under certain circumstances, and in some jurisdictions, removal or abatement.

One of the most common causes of lead poisoning in children is the ingestion of lead dust from deteriorating paint. Even in small amounts, lead can irreversibly damage kids with diminished I.Q., learning disabilities, and impaired hearing. Lead-based paint disintegrates over time and contaminates dust throughout homes or schools; lead in soil around these buildings also leads to children’s exposure.

Earthjustice represents A Community Voice, California Communities Against Toxics, Healthy Homes Collaborative, New Jersey Citizen Action, New York City Coalition to End Lead Poisoning, WE ACT for Environmental Justice, the Sierra Club, and United Parents Against Lead.

Quotes from our clients:

“EPA actions today to identify any lead in a home or daycare center as unacceptable comes as a long overdue response to the lead exposure crisis that America’s children face.  We applaud EPA’s efforts to protect children from these dangerous life-altering exposures,” said Jane Williams, executive director of California Communities Against Toxics.

“We commend EPA on doing the right thing by lowering lead dust hazard standards to Zero and urge the agency to move swiftly in finalizing the standards and putting measures in place to make sure they are implemented” Many children will be spared the pangs of lead poisoning by this simple act of moral consciousness,”said Queen Zakia Shabazz, Mother of a Lead Poisoned Son and Founder United Parents Against Lead & Other Environmental Hazards.

“We applaud the EPA for acknowledging that there is no safe level of exposure to the dangerous neurotoxin lead, which disproportionately harms children of color,” said Yuwa Vosper, Policy & Regulatory Manager at WE ACT for Environmental Justice. “We urge the agency to adopt these proposed standards and enforce them aggressively, which includes increasing the number of inspectors available — especially in low-income communities and communities of color where the risks are the greatest.”

Peeling paint in an old building.
Lead-based paint disintegrates over time and contaminates dust throughout homes or schools; lead in soil around these buildings also leads to children’s exposure. (M.R. / CC BY-ND 2.0)

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