Attorney General Dana Nessel has joined a coalition of 19 state attorneys in calling on the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to strengthen protections against lead poisoning, especially for children living in low-income communities and communities of color.
Officials say in comments on the EPA’s “Draft Strategy to Reduce Lead Exposures and Disparities in US Communities,” the coalition called the strategy a strong starting point, but shared recommendations on how the EPA should support the plan to more aggressively and comprehensively fight ways in which kids are exposed to lead.
“We have already seen what lead can do when it gets into the water supply,” stated Nessel. “I’m proud to stand with my colleagues in asking the EPA to strengthen its approach to childhood lead poisoning and the ways children can be exposed – not just through the water they drink, but also the very food that they eat, the paint and soil in their homes and daycares, and gasoline in cars driven nearby. Since lead poisoning disproportionately affects low-income children, this is an environmental justice issue that requires expeditious action on the EPA’s part. “
According to the CDC, it is estimated that children in at least four million homes across the country are exposed to high levels of lead. A 2021 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics suggests that more than half of all US children have detectible levels of lead in their blood.
Additionally, the study found that elevated blood levels in kids were closely related to poverty, race and living in older housing.
Officials say children who have been exposed to very low levels of lead are at risk for neurological and physical problems during critical stages of early development. Additionally, they note that no safe level in children has been identified.
Furthermore, officials state that kids under the age of six are more likely to be exposed to lead than any other age group, as their behaviors could result in them chewing lead paint chips, breathing in or swallowing dust from old lead paint that gets on floors , windowsills and hands, breathing lead dust from the dirt they play in, ingesting lead through foods containing lead and playing with toys and other consumer products that contain lead.
Officials state that in the comments, the coalition credits the EPA’s Draft Lead Strategy for identifying government-led approaches to increasing public health protections, addressing legacy lead contamination for communities with the greatest exposures and promoting environmental justice.
But the coalition’s comments show many other measures necessary to strengthen the Strategy by aggressively targeting hazards posed by lead in paint, drinking water, soils, aviation fuel, air, food and through occupational and take-home exposures. These include the following:
- Increasing resources for the enforcement of existing laws relating to lead paint in rental housing and amending existing regulations to require landlords to increase the frequency of inspections of houses with a history of lead paint hazards.
- Developing proactive policies and standards for hazardous waste sites, drinking water, and other sources of lead exposure that are more protective of health and designed to reduce lead poisoning.
- Developing aggressive deadlines for tightening standards, developing enforcement policies, and conducting an endangerment determination for lead in aviation gas under the Clean Air Act.
- Identifying meaningful environmental justice targets to ensure that the communities most in need and the vulnerable are protected.
- Encouraging inter-agency collaboration and data-sharing with other federal agencies such as HUD, OSHA, FAA, and FDA, and USDA.
- Pledging allocations of federal funds to replace drinking water service lines containing lead reach struggling and historically marginalized communities.
- Adopting federal regulations testing of water and remediation of lead service lines and lead plumbing fixtures in public, charter, and private schools, and in childcare centers.
- Expanding multi-language informational campaigns and blood lead testing programs to address “take-home lead” exposure – lead from work that accumulates on a worker’s clothing and shoes.
- Developing other specific metrics for achieving and evaluating success in lead reduction.