EPA Continues to Ignore the Dangers of Lead for Children

In 2001, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) set hazard standards for levels of lead, the measure of which is critical to children’s health. Despite calls from the agency’s science advisors, says USA Today, the federal body has no plans to revise those outdated standards.

As we have written, the Advisory Committee on Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention says no amount of lead in a child’s body is safe. Children’s developing organs are especially vulnerable to lead; it can compromise intelligence, and cause behavioral problems, impaired hearing, coma, convulsions and death.

Older and/or deteriorating houses pose a heightened exposure risk, as do homes undergoing renovation, thanks to the lead content of paint chips, dust and soil contaminated by leaded gasoline.

In response to the EPA’s sloth, Howard Mielke, a soil contamination expert at Tulane University’s medical school told USA Today, “It's outrageous we aren't acting on what we know.”

A year ago, the EPA's Children's Health Protection Advisory Committee asked then-administrator Lisa Jackson for “immediate and urgent attention” to several recommendations about lead poisoning, including revising the lead dust standards.

Yet its lead standard for house dust remains under review, and, says USA Today, seems to be years away. The agency told the paper earlier this month that no action is being taken to revise hazard standards for soil either. Compare with a California health model, the federal standard allows five times more lead in play areas than what’s required to protect children from losing one IQ point.

The standards are applied in home inspections for lead paint residues and when yard and playground soil is tested for contamination from paint, industrial sources or particles from when vehicles burned leaded gasoline.

“We have thousands of risk assessors around the country determining whether you have risks and using clearance standards that are outdated," Rebecca Morley, executive director of the National Center for Healthy Housing, told USA Today. “They matter to consumers as a right-to-know issue: If you're told your home is safe and in fact it's not.”

Last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revised its standard for children’s lead blood levels. It cut by half the amount that should trigger public health actions.

According to USA Today, some 500,000 U.S. children have a blood-lead level of at least 5, the CDC's new standard, although the agency and its scientific advisers emphasized that there is not safe level.

In 2009, the EPA received a petition from several consumer and children’s health organizations to lower the lead standards. The agency doesn't expect to change anything until September 2014.

And nothing’s happening in terms of soil contamination. The EPA's hazard standard for bare soil where children play, says USA Today, is 400 parts per million (ppm) of lead. The California model’s standard is 80 ppm.

Only a tiny amount of ingested lead dust can poison a child. A packet of artificial sweetener, which contains 1 gram of powder. A microgram is one-millionth of that amount, and swallowing just 6 micrograms of lead particles a day over about three months can raise a child's blood-lead level by up to 1 point and affect cognitive function.

Bruce Lanphear, a medical researcher who studies sources of lead in children's bodies and has served on EPA advisory panels told USA Today, "In every instance, the [EPA] standards are based less on science and more on what the feds though was feasible."

If you want to pressure the EPA to accept the science, tighten the standards and protect children from the insidious effects of lead poisoning, contact your congressional representatives. Find there here.

Read more about protecting children from lead paint poisoning, and watch a video, on the Patrick Malone law firm website.

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