As it races to meet a court-ordered deadline to redefine when lead paint endangers people, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) appears to be stepping up action on dealing with the health risk. But this movement comes at the same time that its proposed budget cuts appear likely to hobble lead paint reduction efforts. Thus, the potential impact on remodelers remains cloudy.
The most recent signal of movement came Feb. 15, when EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt convened a meeting with representatives from at least a dozen federal agencies to work on a joint strategy for reducing childhood lead exposure and associated health risks. A press release said Pruitt "opened the meeting with his vision for a collaborative multi-federal agency approach to reduce childhood lead exposure across the country and his plans to make it a priority for EPA’s 2018 agenda." It quoted Pruitt as saying: “By refocusing agency efforts, we can work with our government partners to develop solutions that address lead exposure and improve health outcomes for children.”
REMODELING asked EPA staff for a copy of Pruitt's remarks detailing his vision, but so far the agency hasn't responded.
The press release quoted Alex Azar, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Resources, as saying that reducing lead exposure "is a top priority at HHS, and across the Executive Branch. We are fully committed to drafting a federal strategy to fight this continuing threat to infants and children.”
According to the announcement, the attendees agreed to make addressing childhood lead exposure a priority for various federal Task Force departments and agencies. The group came up with what it described as a Federal Strategy to Reduce Childhood Lead Exposures and Eliminate Associated Health Impacts that includes "an aggressive, near-term timeline for the Task Force to complete its work to draft the strategy."
Timelines are on EPA's mind in part because a federal appeals court ruled in December that the EPA come up by this spring with a proposed rule defining what constitutes a dangerous level of lead paint exposure.The court also required that a final rule be set by the end of 2018 unless the agency can present new information showing that modification of the rule was needed.
Lead paint was banned for home use in 1978. Exposure to dust containing lead paint has been found to be harmful, particularly to children and seniors. No level of lead in the blood has been found to be safe.
"Tackling the problem at this stage requires a coordinated federal-wide effort that evaluates the predominant sources of lead and also includes improving identification and treatment of children identified as lead exposed," EPA's press release declared. " It requires a more robust and coordinated communication with parents and others regarding the risks and methods to reduce exposure and a collaborative multi-agency research plan."
There are 58 federal programs dealing with this issue, the press release said, but whether there still will be by 2019 remains uncertain. The proposed EPA budget for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1 proposes to eliminate a Lead Risk Reduction Program that employs the equivalent of 72.8 full-time workers and gets $13.2 million in funding. This is the program that, among other things, certifies remodelers under the Lead: Risk, Reduction, and Painting (RRP) Rule. EPA wants those certfications to be handled by the Chemical Risk Review Reduction Program. But EPA has proposed that that program get $369,000 less in 2019 than it's receiving this year.