Earthjustice

Groups Sue Over Botched Lead Hazard Rule

No level of lead exposure is safe for children

Earthjustice — August 1, 2019

Eve Gartner
Attorney, Earthjustice

San Francisco, CA — Community organizations today sued Trump's Environmental Protection Agency for failing to establish protective lead hazard standards for older housing and child-occupied facilities like schools and daycares. The lead hazard standards updated in June determine whether lead in homes, child-care facilities, and surrounding soil poses a risk. But the standards the Trump administration unveiled are too lax to protect families.

"Trump's EPA had a chance to follow mainstream science and correctly update these standards for children's sake," said Eve Gartner, Earthjustice attorney. "Instead it botched the opportunity and gave families a rule that falls far short of protecting children."

"Current standards result in inspections that fail to identify homes or schools with dangerous levels of lead," said the coalition of organizations Earthjustice represents. "When that happens homeowners and others do not take measures to reduce lead, exposing families and children to breathing in toxic levels of lead. This is illegal and intolerable."

There is no safe level of lead exposure for children, according to the Centers for Disease Control, and about half a million children in the U.S. have levels of lead in their blood high enough to qualify as lead poisoning.\0x202FEven 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.

Last month, an investigation by WNYC and Gothamist found lead contamination from deteriorating paint in four public elementary schools in New York. Some of the classrooms showed lead levels more than 100 times the city's standard. Given how outdated the national standards are, it's unlikely this is an isolated event in the country. In fact, about 15.2 million students were enrolled during 2016 and 2017 in school districts that discovered lead-based paint in their buildings, according to the Government Accountability Office survey released last month.

One of the most common causes of lead poisoning in children is the ingestion of household dust containing lead from deteriorating paint. Yet, even under EPA's new rules, 50 percent of children living in homes that meet EPA's flawed standards could develop blood lead levels above the threshold that requires health intervention.

EPA's updated rule stems from a lawsuit Earthjustice litigated. Thanks to this lawsuit, in 2017 the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ordered EPA to update woefully outdated dust lead hazard standards for housing and child-occupied facilities built before 1978, and the definition of lead-based paint. However, the update, like its predecessor, fails to protect children from lead.

The lawsuit today was filed on behalf of 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.

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