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EPA Ordered To Revise Child Lead Exposure Standards Within 90 Days

A federal appeals court has given the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) 90 days to revise rules for designed to protect children from lead paint exposure, after consumer advocates argued that a six-year plan by the agency to address concerns was insufficient. 

On Wednesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit granted a rare writ of mandamus (PDF), ordering the EPA to act on a 2009 petition to tighten lead paint limitations. The two-to-one decision chastised the agency for delaying to act on the petition, which was originally filed by environmentalists and consumer health groups.

Writs of mandamus are rare because they order a defendant, in this case the EPA, to take immediate action to address the plaintiffs’ grievances. The EPA had indicated that it has a six-year plan to revise the standards, but the court pointed out that would total 14 years since the agency first received the petition before action was taken.

Additionally, the court noted that the plaintiffs’ request had scientific backing which the EPA has failed to dispute. Since the current standards for lead paint exposure and preventing lead poisoning were first put in place in 2001, a number of studies have emerged showing that the risks are higher than originally anticipated.

“Since January of 2001, scientific research has further advanced our understanding of the dangerousness of lead, yet the EPA’s standards have not changed,” the opinion notes. “In 2007, EPA’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee informed the agency that the dust-lead hazard standards were ‘insufficiently protective of children’s health.’ In 2012, the (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) acknowledged that there is no known safe blood lead level.”

The order calls for the EPA to issue a proposed rule in 90 days, and that the EPA finalize the rule within one year of the proposed rule.

The dissenting opinion by Judge Lawrence Piersol indicated that the Toxic Substances Control Act and the amendments in the Paint Hazard Act failed to mandate the EPA to act, and that the writ of mandamus was improper in this case.

Childhood lead poisoning is considered the most preventable environmental disease among young children. More than half a million children in the U.S, have lead blood levels above 5 micrograms per deciliter, the “level of concern” reference set by the CDC.

Sources of lead exposure include lead-based paint, which was used in homes constructed through 1978, lead naturally occurring in soil, renovation repairs, old plumbing, old playground equipment, water, industrial pollution, and household dust contaminated from other exposures.

Although lead paint has been banned in the U.S., many homes nationwide still have the toxic paint, and as they age there is a continuing risk that the paint may chip or flake off of the walls, which poses a serious risk of lead poisoning for young children who ingest the paint chips.

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