The Environmental Protection Agency proposes stricter limits on lead dust in homes and childcare facilities

The Biden administration on Wednesday proposed strengthening lead paint dust removal requirements in homes and child care facilities built before 1978, in an effort to eliminate lead exposure that would require property owners to pay millions for its mitigation.

Lead is a neurotoxin and exposure can cause damage to the brain and nervous system, especially in infants and young children.

If completed, the EPA estimates the regulation would reduce lead exposure for up to 500,000 young children annually.

“There is no safe level for lead,” said Michal Friedhoff, EPA assistant director for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution. “Even low levels harm children’s health, and this proposal will bring us closer to permanently eliminating lead-based paint hazards from homes and childcare facilities across the United States.”

The proposed regulation would not require property owners or child care facilities to proactively test for lead dust. But if a young child shows symptoms of lead exposure, through a blood test or other measurement, that may trigger state and local requirements for testing.

EPA officials said that results confirming the presence of any level of lead dust would require property owners to pay for the cleanup. “It greatly increases the number of facilities that could be required to address lead paint hazards,” said Ms. Friedhoff.

The regulation will apply to facilities used regularly by children aged 6 and under, including child care centres, nurseries and kindergarten classes. Young children are particularly at risk of exposure due to activities such as crawling and hand-to-mouth play. Lead poisoning can cause behavioral problems, learning disabilities, and decreases in measured intelligence levels.

The federal government banned lead paint for residential use in 1978. But the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 31 million homes built before that year contained lead-based paint, 3.8 million of which were home to one or more children under the age of six.

Many of the buildings that would be subject to the proposed regulations are older buildings located in low-income neighborhoods.

Building and business owners who could be affected said they were concerned about the potential costs of lead dust mitigation.

“I don’t want children to live in an environment with lead,” said Cindy Lenhoff, director of the National Child Welfare Association. “But as an industry, we are struggling. We only need one thing to get us through, to make childcare more expensive and less available.”

“The federal government will have to provide funds to help implement that,” she added.

Greg Brown, vice president of the National Apartment Association, which represents landlords, said his organization wants to cooperate with the government.

“Policy makers must work alongside industry to help protect the most vulnerable populations from potential lead exposure and help provide the resources needed to correct any potential risks that may arise,” Mr. Brown said in a statement.

But, he added, “the responsibility cannot be placed solely on apartment owners and operators to solve the problem of testing and remediation requirements.”

The rule would not require homeowners to test their homes for lead paint dust before selling, but if such tests were conducted, sellers would have to disclose the results to potential buyers.

Lead dust occurs most commonly when paint has deteriorated or chipped. It can remain in the building even after the lead paint has been removed, such as in the aftermath of renovations.

Under the proposed regulation, any amount of lead dust in floors and window sills would be considered “hazardous” and would require mitigation, compared to the current “hazardous” standard of 10 micrograms per square foot for floors and 100 micrograms per square foot for window sills.

And the EPA said that if dust is still detected after mitigation measures, building owners are not required to eliminate it completely. The agency said the amount he would be legally allowed to stay would be much less than what is currently allowed.

The rule change is the result of May 2021 opinion by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in response to a complaint against the Environmental Protection Agency filed by several environmental and health groups.

said Eve Gartner, director of toxics strategies at Earthjustice, who has represented some of those plaintiffs. “Our clients in these litigations are grateful and look forward to expediting the finalization and enforcement of these important rules.”

The proposed rule will be open to public comment for 60 days, after which the EPA can change it in response to that feedback before finalizing and implementing it next year.