Water Rule, Standards Central to Cut Lead Exposures: EPA Panel

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By Pat Rizzuto

Tightening lead-hazard standards and issuing a rule to reduce lead in drinking water should be among the EPA’s priorities to reduce children’s lead exposures, an agency advisory committee says.

The Environmental Protection Agency had asked its Children’s Health Protection Advisory Committee during the administration of President Barack Obama about priority actions to reduce children’s lead exposure.

Concerns about exposure to the toxic metal garnered significant attention in 2016 when the nation learned about the crisis in Flint, Mich., whose drinking water was contaminated with unhealthy levels of lead. Most of the city’s 100,000 residents are still having to rely on bottled water.

Doug Ericksen, who directs communications for the Trump administration’s landing team, didn’t reply Feb. 2 to Bloomberg BNA’s questions about whether advice the EPA sought during Obama’s presidency would continue to be of interest.

Lifelong Problems

More than 500,000 children have elevated blood lead levels, the committee said during its Feb. 1-2 meeting.

Those elevated levels can lower the children’s IQ scores and increase children’s risk of behavior problems, both of which can have lifelong harm, it said.

Black and poor children are at higher risk than those who are white and live in higher income households.

Four Priorities

The committee identified four priority EPA actions:

  •  strengthen the 2001 Lead-based Paint Hazard Standard, which lists lead concentrations in residential dust, paint and soil that pose a hazard;
  •  revise the 1991 Lead and Copper Rule to reduce lead in drinking water;
  •  update the brochure “Protect Your Family from Lead in Your Home,” which is given to families that buy or rent homes built before 1978, when the government banned consumer uses of paint containing lead; and
  •  work with the Dept. of Housing and Urban Development, Centers for Disease Prevention and Control and other agencies to make sure reducing lead in homes, schools and drinking water is a priority.

Forthcoming Rule; Stalled Action

The EPA has said it will propose revisions to the Lead and Copper Rule this year and has been under more pressure to do so since the Flint crisis.

The Lead and Copper Rule limits the concentrations of lead and copper allowed in public drinking water. It also limits the permissible amount of pipe corrosion that can occur from compounds in the water itself. Flint’s decision to switch the source of the city’s drinking water from Detroit’s water system to the Flint River sparked the crisis because proper corrosion controls weren’t put in place to prevent lead from leaching from aging service lines.

During the lead discussion, a committee member summarized the panel’s core message about the lead and copper rule as: “Get it out!” The committee left details about the content of the rule to the agency.

New HUD Guidance as Spur for EPA?

The agency’s Science Advisory Board recommended in 2011 that the agency update its lead dust hazard standards to protect both children and adults, but the agency has not done so.

Committee members pointed to more stringent dust-lead action levels the Dept. of Housing and Urban Development recommended in guidance it issued Jan. 31. That could spur the EPA to follow suit, several members said.

HUD’s guidance reduced the lead in dust action level from 40 micrograms per square foot (μg/ft2) to 10 μg/ft2 on floors and from 250 μg/ft2 to 100 μg/ft2 on window sills. The guidance applies to HUD grantees effective April 1, 2017.

The children’s health protection committee will complete a draft letter detailing its priorities after the meeting before transmitting it to the EPA.

—With assistance from Rachel Leven in Washington, D.C.

To contact the reporter on this story: Pat Rizzuto in Washington, D.C., at prizzuto@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com

For More Information

Information about the Children's Health Protection Advisory Committee is available at http://src.bna.com/lVX.

HUD's new guidance is available at http://src.bna.com/lVW.

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