Thursday, September 1, 2016

Environmental and Health Organizations Push EPA to Update Lead-based Paint Standards

Seven national environmental organizations are suing the EPA for not
updating their lead safety standards; lead poisoning disproportionately affects
young children, often with irreversible and severe health complications.

Last week, a cooperative effort of seven national environmental and health organizations moved forward in legal proceedings against the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Their lawsuit alleges that the EPA failed to fix outdated and inaccurate lead standards, which put families at risk of exposure to toxic lead-based paint and lead dust.  

The lawsuit asserts that it's been seven years since the EPA assented to a 2009 petition for stricter lead safety standards in residential areas and public facilities--but the EPA hasn't made any changes. As a result, the coalition of environmental groups call upon the U.S. Court of Appeals to force the EPA to propose an updated standard within 90 days, and to finalize that standard within six months. The filing notes that courts have strong-armed government agencies into action on other matters involving public health risks.

"These organizations want people to know that lead exposure is irreversibly damaging to people's heath in communities all over the country and they want EPA to do its job to protect children from harm," Hannah Chang, attorney on behalf of the groups, said in a recent Earthjustice article.

Lead poisoning has many detrimental effects. In adults, small amounts of lead exposure can cause high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and reproductive disease. In children, whose brains and nervous systems are rapidly developing, lead can cause irreversible mental impairment, intellectual disability, hearing loss, kidney damage, attention deficit disorder and behavioral issues.

The lawsuit comes after lead crises in MichiganMaryland and Indiana made the news and revealed thousands of victims of lead poisoning--most of them children. Although lead-based paint was outlawed in the late 1970s, many old homes and public facilities such as daycare centers and schools still contain substantial amounts of lead-based paint. Often times, residue contaminates surrounding soil and pipes; consequently, infants and young children exploring their surroundings will inhale or ingest paint chips or toxic lead dust. Years of exposure to toxic lead residue during formative years can have irreversible effects on children.

"Revising the dust standards is a critical step in primary prevention and will tackle this problem efficiently," Linda Kite, Executive Director of the Healthy Homes Collaborative, said in a recent Earthjustice article.

The EPA's current lead standards don't take human health risks into account. The EPA's own Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee advised the agency that its lead standards were "insufficiently protective of children's health." 

The impact of the EPA's insufficient safety standards is immense. The EPA standards are followed by school boards, health organizations, city and state government agencies and the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The outcome of the lawsuit is still developing, however, the environmental groups are hopeful of a swift change. At the very least the groups hope the lawsuit will bring attention to the dire situation.

"Our children have no chance against lead poisoning if we keep these dangers hidden," Zakia Rafiqa Shabazz, founder of United Parents Against Lead, said in a press release.

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