Washington, DC — A coalition of public health and community organizations today took the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to court for failing to adopt lead-safe regulations for repairs and renovations in older housing, according to a lawsuit filed by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Even though EPA’s own estimates concede that additional delay in issuing regulations annually exposes 1.4 million children to risk of lead poisoning, the lead-safe rules are still not in place more than nine years after the legal deadline.
“We cannot afford to wait any longer for EPA to shoulder its statutory obligations, especially when the health of our children is at stake,” stated PEER General Counsel Richard Condit, who filed the suit. “Each year of inaction means that tens of thousands of American kids will be exposed to lead paint dust and suffer irreversible damage, such as lost IQ points and developmental disabilities.”
According to EPA documents –
- Each year, approximately 7 million home renovations produce hazardous quantities of lead dust;
- Repeated studies show the relationship between these renovations and elevated blood lead levels in children. In Chicago, for example, one in five children under age 5 has dangerously elevated blood-lead levels; and
- Adoption of comprehensive renovation regulations would yield a net economic benefit of at least $2.73 billion per year, derived primarily from reduced illnesses and other negative health effects.
By law, EPA is supposed to require that certified contractors and workers trained in lead-safe practices perform all remodeling in buildings constructed before 1978. By law, EPA was required to have its “regulations to renovation or remodeling activities” in place by October 28, 1996. These repair and renovation regulations are considered the last major step towards meeting the national goal of eliminating childhood lead poisoning by 2010, according to a presidential task force report issued in 2000.
Under President Clinton, EPA’s anti-lead efforts were tardy but were fitfully proceeding. Under President George W. Bush, however, progress on lead-safe rules grounded to a complete halt. In 2004, EPA secretly ordered that the rules be abandoned altogether. In March 2005, PEER published internal agency documents exposing the secret order, as well as internal studies showing large net benefits from a strong rule. After some dissembling and under mounting congressional pressure, EPA has promised to finally go forward with rules sometime in 2006.
While grudgingly pledging to take action, the Bush Administration has hamstrung the proposed rules behind the scenes by imposing crippling cost restrictions and unreasonable assumptions, according to internal agency documents posted today by PEER. One such assumption is that industry will immediately invent a new, inexpensive swab that is 90% accurate in detecting lead paint.
“This lawsuit will hold the Bush administration’s feet to the fire and make sure that they follow the whole law, not just the easy parts,” Condit added.
Joining PEER in filing suit are the Maine Lead Action Project, The Lead and Environmental Hazards Association ( Olney, MD), Improving Kids’ Environment ( Indianapolis), Project 504 ( Minneapolis), Group 14621 Community Association, Inc. ( Rochester), Organization of the New Eastside ( Indianapolis), and Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry ( Cleveland).