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EPA Drags Feet on New Lead Rules

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

An EPA whistle-blower has exposed the agency for secretly delaying completion of required rules to protect children and construction workers from lead poisoning from paint and dust in favor of voluntary compliance standards, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Five members of Congress sent a letter to EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson early this week calling for an explanation and pointing out that EPA's undisclosed decision breaks federal law.

The law, passed in 1992, required that EPA issue rules on lead safety and building regulations by 1996; seven years after the deadline, the agency announced it would have them in place by 2005. However, agency documents obtained by the Times indicate that in mid-2004, Johnson was given a choice of following the rules, or pursuing a voluntary-participation approach to lead safety that would, as an EPA spokeswoman put it, "be less costly to industry and the public."

But it looks like only industry will save - to the tune of $1.7 billion to $3.1 billion per year, according to an EPA study. Although mostly small businesses renovate buildings, and thus would bear most of the costs, EPA's estimate of the health savings of safety regulations is far greater, at $2.7 billion to $4.2 billion annually.

The CDC estimated in 2000 that 434,000 children nationwide had high levels of lead in their blood. About 1.4 million children are exposed to lead paint each year, mostly due to home renovations that disproportionately affect minorities. Lead poisoning is especially dangerous for infants and children under two, and causes permanent loss of IQ and other brain damage at low levels of exposure.

To view EWG's work on lead poisoning in Ohio, please visit "Lead Astray."

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