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Suit Calls for EPA Action on Lead Paint

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

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Seven public health and environmental justice groups have accused the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency of “unreasonable delay” in its obligation to update lead-based paint and lead dust regulations, leaving hundreds of thousands of families at risk.

The groups, including the Healthy Homes Collaborative, A Community Voice, California Communities Against Toxics, and the United Parents Against Lead National, filed a lawsuit Aug. 24 in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

7 Years of Waiting

In the case, the groups argue that seven years after EPA granted a 2009 citizens’ petition to update its standards, EPA has yet to propose or set any new regulations.

EPA
Official seal

The suit would like a federal court to require the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to update its lead-based and dust hazard standards.

The groups want the federal court to mandate that the EPA update its standards for assessing levels of lead dust on surfaces in homes and residential buildings, especially those constructed before 1978—the year lead-based paint was banned from residential use.

The groups also want the definition of “lead-based paint” under the Toxic Substances Control Act to be updated.

The groups seek the following timeline for the changes: EPA must propose a rule within 90 days and finalize that rule within six months.

Lead Poisoning

Lead poisoning can cause severe physical and mental impairment and death, the filing says, citing the Mayo Clinic.

In adults, lead exposure—even in small amounts—can cause high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and damage to the male reproductive system. In children, it can cause diminished I.Q., learning disabilities, hyperactivity, impaired hearing and attention-related behavioral problems.

Children under the age of six are particularly vulnerable to neurological damage from lead because they’re growing rapidly, sources say.

houses
© iStock.com / slobo

It is estimated that about 64 million homes across the country may contain lead-based paint, the lawsuit indicates.

“Our children have no chance against lead poisoning if we keep these dangers hidden,” Queen Zakia Rafiqa Shabazz, mother of a lead-poisoned son and Founder of United Parents Against Lead, said in a statement. “EPA’s outdated standards and lack of enforcement let lead remain hidden and silent […]. We as parents want to protect our children but we can do little against an invisible enemy. A child is a terrible thing to waste.”

The most common pathway to lead poisoning is caused by the ingestion of household dust containing lead from deteriorating lead-laden paint (on older windows, doors and trim, and walls), according to the filing.

3 Million Tons of Lead

The lawsuit states that housing constructed prior to 1980 contains more than 3 million tons of lead in the form of lead-based paint, with most homes built before 1950 containing “substaintial amounts of lead-based paint.”

Further, it is estimated that about 64 million homes across the country may contain lead-based paint.

The lawsuit notes that lead exposure and poisoning disproportionately affects minority and low-income communities.

Standard at Issue

The EPA's dust-lead hazard standards became effective in 2001, establishing regulations for lead-based paint hazards in most pre-1978 housing and child-occupied facilities.

Specifically, those standards identify a “dust-lead hazard” as “surface dust in a residential dwelling or child-occupied facility that contains a mass-per-area concentration of lead equal to or exceeding 40 μg/square foot on floors or 250 μg/square foot on interior window sills based on wipe samples.”

The determination that a dust-lead hazard is present triggers the requirement that any inspections, risk assessment and abatement must be performed by professionals certified with the EPA. The standards are significant as many federal agencies, housing authorities, states and cities rely on the standards for promulgating their own rules and assessments.

Outdated Levels

However, the EPA’s standards are “outdated and unproductive of human health,” the groups say, noting that the EPA’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee informed the agency in 2007 that its dust-lead hazard standards were “insufficiently protective of children’s health, as indicated by recent epidemiological studies.”

The agency’s standards rely on the estimate that they would result in a one to five percent probability of a child developing a blood lead level of 10 micrograms per deciliter.

However, in 2012, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention established a 5 μg/dL as the reference blood lead level making the dust-lead hazard standards “obsolete and even less protective,” according to the lawsuit.

Lead
© iStock.com / 3dalia

No safe blood lead level in children has been identified, according to health authorities.

Further, the CDC also says that “no safe blood lead level in children has been identified.”

The lawsuit follows a recent report by the American Academy of Pediatrics; in it, the AAP said the current standards offer only the “illusion of safety.”

Power of Definition

The groups also maintain that the statutory definition of “lead-based paint” plays a critical role in the outcome of a lead inspection and risk assessment and argues it should be updated.

Currently under the TSCA, “lead-based paint” is defined as “paint or other surface coatings that contain lead in excess of 1.0 milligrams per centimeter squared or 0.5 percent by weight or (a) in the case of paint or other surface coatings on target housing, such lower level as may be established by the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, […] or (b) in the case of any other paint or surface coatings, such other level as may be established by [EPA].”

That definition differs from the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s definition of “lead-based paint.” In 1978, the CPSC banned the production and sale of lead-based paint for residential use that contained lead exceeding 0.06 percent by weight, according to the lawsuit.

The EPA has told media outlets it would “review the lawsuit and respond.”

   

Tagged categories: EPA; hazardous materials; Health and safety; Laws and litigation; Lead; Lead paint abatement; Regulations

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