EPA Ordered to Revise Lead Exposure Standards
A study published in the Journal of Pediatrics in 2016 found that despite decades of work to reduce lead in paint, dust, and water, about 3 percent of children around the country exhibit high levels of the metal in their blood. According to the study, the problem is particularly acute in parts of the Northeast. The regions with the largest proportions of blood specimens with the highest lead levels were in New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had set standards in 2001 for lead contamination levels in dust and soil in homes. And environmental and health groups petitioned the agency in 2009 to tighten standards on lead in dust and soil as well as paint to “more adequately protect” children. The EPA, then under President Obama, acknowledged the need for stricter rules in 2011 and agreed to take action, but never did so and set no timelines for developing a new rule.
As a result, a lawsuit was initiated in August 2016 asking the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, to find that the EPA had unreasonably delayed a new rule. Subsequently, the Trump administration told the court it expected to take another six years to issue a new regulation.
The federal appeals court recently ordered the EPA to revise its nearly 17-year-old standard for dangerous levels of lead in paint and dust within one year. The decision also called attention to the persistent threat of lead paint to children in millions of American homes, four decades after the federal government banned it from households. The 2-to-1 decision means the EPA must propose a new rule within 90 days, instead of the six years the Trump administration had requested to reconsider what levels of lead exposure are acceptable for children. The Trump administration’s request was on top of a six-year delay under former President Obama. The court said the postponement was unreasonable, particularly in the face of new research on the hazards of lead paint.
In ordering the EPA to issue a proposed rule within 90 days and finalize it within a year after that, the judges said they were mindful of the agency’s arguments that officials needed more time to deliberate on a complex new standard. However, the court felt the risks to children from lead poisoning under standards the EPA has already called insufficient were too “severe.”