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Washington, DC — In an unannounced move, Stephen Johnson, the Acting Administrator
of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, has balked at taking the last major
step to protect urban children and residential construction workers from the
hazards of lead-based paint, according to internal agency briefings released
today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). As a result,
the national goal of eliminating childhood lead poisoning will remain beyond

The principal source of lead dust exposure to U.S. children is renovation and
repair of older residences, which have a much higher prevalence of lead-based
paint. Federal studies indicate that the vast majority of an estimated 20 to
30 million older-home repair projects each year are done without lead safe cleanup
and contamination practices. Consequently, these renovations kick up significant
amounts of lead dust that permeates carpets, ductwork and soil, creating both
short and long-term exposure to residents.

By law, EPA is supposed to require that certified contractors using workers
trained in lead-safe practices do all remodeling in building constructed before
1978. Under the Toxic Substances Control Act, the deadline for EPA to adopt
these “regulations to renovation or remodeling activities” was October
28, 1996. Although behind schedule, EPA continued to develop regulations through
2003. In 2004, however, then-Deputy and now-Acting Administrator Stephen Johnson
moved to scrap plans for renovation regulations and instead opt for a yet to
be developed voluntary approach, according to agency records. Earlier this month,
President Bush nominated Johnson to become EPA Administrator.

Johnson made his decision despite EPA’s own analyses showing the renovation
regulations had a net economic benefit of at least $2.73 billion per year. These
internal analyses also showed that –

  • An estimated 1.4 million children under age 7 residing in some 4.9 million
    households are at risk of lead exposure due to unsafe repair and renovations;
  • The renovation regulations could be expected to prevent at least 28,000
    lead-related illnesses each year, thereby preventing $1.6 billion in medical
    costs and economic losses annually; and
  • The additional cost to homeowners would average $116 per interior renovation
    and $42 for exterior work.

“The Bush Administration has walked away from the national goal of eliminating
childhood lead poisoning by 2010, in the process leaving 1.4 million children
behind,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch whose organization is
seeking to create a coalition to push, and if need be, litigate for the adoption
of the long-stalled repair and renovation regulations. “EPA has abdicated
its public health responsibilities by glomming onto a voluntary program without
a scintilla of evidence that their preferred ‘non-regulatory approach’

Children in their prime developmental years (under age 7) are at much greater
risk of elevated blood-lead levels. While lead exposure levels have steadily
fallen over the past four decades, those improvements have leveled off in recent
years. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that 434,000 children in the
U.S. under age 5 currently have elevated blood-lead levels associated with deleterious
health effects. Older cities tend to have higher rates of childhood lead poisoning.
A study, in Chicago, for example, found 20 percent children under age 5 with
dangerously elevated blood-lead levels.

“This decision by Mr. Johnson to abandon public health protection for
inner city children bears on his fitness to serve as the head of the EPA,”
Ruch added. “We would hope that Congress takes the time to carefully examine
this issue.”


the May 2004 PowerPoint presentation for EPA Deputy Administrator Stephen Johnson
outlining a voluntary renovating and remodeling (R&R) program

at the legal requirement for EPA to certify R&R work by 1996

the lead fact sheet summarizing EPA and other federal reports stressing the
need for a regulatory approach to residential R&R

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