New US limit on lead dust not what the doctor ordered

2020-07-01

The EPA strengthens regulations for lead paint cleanup but doesn’t use the latest science to protect children from lead poisoning

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on June 17 proposed tightening its standard for how much lead dust can be left on floors after contractors remove lead paint from homes and childcare centers. While the proposed standard is a significant improvement over the old one, it is twice as high as the level that health experts have called for.

Exposure to lead is considered unsafe at any level. Lead causes irreversible neurological damage to children, leading to attention deficit disorders and loss of IQ. Children are most likely to get poisoned by nibbling on chips of old leaded paint, which tastes sweet, and ingesting minute lead-paint particles in floor dust. Low-income and minority children are disproportionately affected.

While average blood lead levels of children have plummeted in the US since the 1970s, when regulators began to limit the amount of lead in house paint, chronic low-level poisoning continues. At least half a million children ages 1–5 years have blood lead concentrations above the level at which the US Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that parents and others take action to reduce a child’s exposure. About 24 million homes still have lead paint.

When contractors remove lead paint from homes, they test the success of their job by marking out a square foot (0.09 m2) of floor, scooping up lead dust with a special wipe, and sending the wipe off to a lab for analysis. The EPA’s new rules will get homes cleaner after lead abatement and reduce lead poisoning by allowing 10 μg/ft2 (about 110 µg/m2) of lead on floors after cleanup, down from the 2001 standard of 40 μg/ft2 (430 µg/m2).

Chemicals and Engineering News, 1 July 2020
; https://cen.acs.org/policy/chemical-regulation/New-US-limit-lead-dust/98/i26