A court order from the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
ruled that EPA cannot delay updating its 17-year-old lead standard;
the court gives it 90 days to propose a new standard.
Last Wednesday, a federal appeals court ordered the Environmental protection Agency (EPA) to update its 17-year-old standards for lead levels in paint and soil.
The Court of Appeals for Ninth Circuit ruled that EPA had taken a liberal amount of time to act on a 2009 petition from several public health and environmental groups asking for tougher regulations on lead. In a 2-to-1 ruling, the court found that the EPA has a duty to update its lead paint rules following years of new scientific evidence that its current standards are insufficient in preventing lead poisoning. Now, the EPA has 90 days to propose a new standard and one year to finalize it.
"This is going to protect the brains of thousands of children across the country. It's going to mean that children that otherwise would have developed very elevated blood lead levels will be protected from the damage associate with that, assuming EPA follows the court order," Eve C. Gartner, a staff attorney for Earthjustice representing some of the environmental groups in court, said in a press release.
Since 2009, public health and environmental groups have pushed for stricter regulation of lead. Lead-based paint in particular has been a source of toxic lead exposure in everyday settings. Lead-based paint was banned in the United States in 1978 but remains in many older homes. When paint flakes off or is disturbed, the paint chips and dust can be inhaled or ingested by occupants.
In recent years, lead poisoning epidemics have cropped up nationwide - often times with children as the primary victims. Lead poisoning is cumulative and even small amounts of exposure over a lifetime can cause irreversible cognitive delays, bone damage, kidney damage and organ failure.
As recently as 2016, a study from the National Bureau of Economic Research found that even minuscule differences in childhood lead exposure can have lasting impact on educational performances. Researchers compared test scores and lead-exposure levels of children who benefited from a lead remediation program in Rhode Island against children who did not. They found that single microgram increase in the amount of lead in a child's bloodstream correlated with a one-point drop in reading comprehension. Moreover, a single microgram decrease in blood lead levels correlated with higher test scores.
With stricter lead laws, childhood lead poisoning can be a thing of the past. Still, petitioners are hopeful but not relieved with the court order.
"That's the hurtful thing, how many children could have been prevented from suffering the pains of lead poisoning," Zakia Rafiqa Shabazz, founder of United Parents Against Lead, said in a recent press release.
Activists lament the decade-long stall to receive action from their petition in 2009 - first with the Obama administration agreeing to update lead standards but not setting any plans in 2011 and again with the Trump administration initially asking to delay a new standard until 2020. As a result, some activists are not optimistic about EPA's dedication to lead poisoning prevention.
"They never contested that the standard needed to be updated. They just didn't prioritize protecting kids from lead," Eve C. Gartner, staff attorney for Earthjustice, said in a recent press release.
The new lead standard proposal from EPA - the first phase of the court order - can be expected by April.
To learn more about the court case, visit the appeals publication. To learn more about lead and how to get involved in this important industry, visit Zack Academy's lead homepage.