Utne Blogs > Environment

Let's Get the Lead Out, EPA

 by Keith Goetzman


Tags: Environment, Green Living, lead poisoning, toys, toxic, renovation, paint, EPA,

Lead cleanupWith the Senate’s passage last week of a ban on lead in children’s toys, it’s tempting to think that we’ve taken care of that nasty old lead problem. But we’ve taken care of just a small part of it. The fact remains that many children are still exposed to lead in the environment, even if they don’t regularly suck on toxic Thomas the Tank Engines.

Children are indeed at higher risk from lead exposure than adults, the Alliance for Healthy Homes reminds us, though the greatest source of exposure isn’t toys but the paint in old homes (PDF), specifically the dust created when paint is damaged during home renovations.

Unfortunately, cleaning up this source has less public oomph—and thus political power—behind it than the toy scare. That’s why the Environmental Protection Agency, ordered by Congress in 1992 to address the danger of lead in home renovations, took until March this year to actually do something. And even then it was a baby step, requiring contractors who fix up older homes and other buildings occupied by children to take simple precautions against creating and spreading lead dust. The cleaning must then be verified—by the same workers who do the lead removal. The rule doesn’t take effect until 2010.

“In the 16 years since we’ve been waiting for this rule, at least 17 million children have been exposed to harmful levels of lead unnecessarily, permanently losing IQ points as a result,” the Alliance for Healthy Homes said in a statement (PDF). “The new regulation is an important first step toward preventing another generation from being poisoned by debris left behind after a remodeling job.”

The Alliance went on to criticize the lack of teeth in the new rule and encouraged the EPA to take additional steps, including banning “dry scraping,” which generates lots of hard-to-clean lead dust and increases exposure; requiring formal lead-safe training of all workers, not just their supervisors; and strengthening its enforcement. I suggest going even further and enhancing the educational effort aimed at do-it-yourself remodelers, who every weekend haul out their scrapers, sanders, and demolition bars and release tons of lead dust into the air, often unknowingly.

Lead is a potent neurotoxin that can retard children's mental and physical development, reduce attention span and delay fetal development, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Alarming new studies have even linked childhood lead exposure to adult crime and brain damage. Let’s use the awareness generated by the toy scare to tackle this lurking environmental threat.

Image by skidrd, licensed under Creative Commons.

gary ashcraft
8/7/2008 7:32:09 PM

Lead . . . Shmead, Who was the well intentioned, liberal, left wing, nit wit who took up this cause any way?? How many children have you seen around remodeling, reconstruction, renovation sites anyhow? What fool of a contractor have you seen leaving construction dust and debris at a site after project completion? There are three great lies, and #1 is " I'm from the Government and I'm here to help you " Residential Lead abatement is about well meaning ( less than knowledgeable ) politicians creating jobs for bureaucrats. Lest we forget, these are the same guys who told us lead was bad in our cars gasoline and to protect us gave us MTBE which has proven to be many times worse.


patrick macroy
8/5/2008 9:55:34 AM

Although there is no reason for there to be lead in toys and we are fully supportive of efforts to assure the safety of consumer products, you are quite correct that the much larger source of lead exposure is deteriorating lead based paint in children's homes. The fact that it took the EPA sixteen years plus threats of lawsuits and congressional action to issue regulations to address lead emissions from renovations is a tragedy. With some improvements and if fully implemented, these regulations will go a long way towards protecting children from lead. However, these regulations only apply to activity occurring during renovation. There are no federal requirements for addressing hazards currently in most housing. Although some states and localities have protective measures in place, in the vast majority of the country, there are no laws or regulations requiring that an older home be safe from lead hazards. For the most part, our policies are reactive. We expose children to old housing with lead based paint, wait a couple of years, and then test the child for lead exposure. If the child comes up as poisoned, only then (and not even always then) is the home inspected and the hazards identified and corrected. Our national policy on lead is to essentially use children as biological detectors of poor housing. Although the renovation rules are an important step forward, much work remains to make our policy protective of children, rather than reactive, and actually prevent children from being exposed to a potent neurotoxin. Patrick MacRoy Executive Director Alliance for Healthy Homes


pam_1
8/4/2008 12:32:40 PM

Since it took them 16 years to act on this, maybe for the next 16 years, they would like to foot the medical bills for kids who were affected or pay for the special school services for all of those kids who lost IQ points..................