On Friday, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to update its 2019 hazard standards for lead that leaches from paint and soil.
According to the environmental law public interest non-profit, Earthjustice, EPA’s current definition, which was set in 1992, is more than 55 times less protective than the definition used by the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
But a 2019 lawsuit, filed by community advocacy and environmental organizations and represented by Earthjustice, led to the 9th Circuit’s order. Earthjustice previously sued the EPA for failing to establish protective lead hazard standards for older housing and child-occupied facilities like schools and daycares.
Lead-based paint can deteriorate, causing lead particles trapped in dust and soil to lodge in the respiratory tract of children. Because there is no safe level of lead exposure, any exposure to the metal can produce irreversible damage in kids, such as lowered IQs and learning disabilities, and aggression and other behavioral problems.
The EPA, under the Trump administration, updated the lead standards. But the 9th Circuit, in finding these standards too lax to protect families and children from lead-based paint found in older structures, forces the EPA to update the standards for housing and child-occupied facilities built before 1978.
Despite the fact that EPA banned lead as an additive in paint in 1978, Earthjustice says lead exposure from paint is still common. In fact, the non-profit points to a 2019 investigation by WNYC and Gothamist, which highlighted lead contamination from deteriorating paint in four public elementary schools in New York City. There, levels of the harmful additive exceeded 100 times the standard that EPA adopted in some of the classrooms.
But the problem is not isolated to old classrooms in New York. A report by the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) revealed over 15 million students in 2016 and 2017 were enrolled in school districts across the country that had lead paint in their buildings.
Jonathan J. Smith, an attorney with Earthjustice said, per the non-profit’s website, “We’re grateful that the 9th Circuit determined the EPA’s weak standards violate the law and failed to protect children.”
Smith added, “There is no safe level of lead exposures for children. Strengthening the standards will protect millions of children from exposure to dangerous levels of lead dust at their homes and schools.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control, approximately half a million children in the U.S. have levels of lead in their blood high enough to qualify as lead poisoning.
To read the full report at Earth Justice click here.