Watchdog faults EPA response to lead paint hazards

Watchdog faults EPA response to lead paint hazards
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The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is not effectively using a rule meant to protect against exposure to lead-based paint, an agency watchdog found.

The EPA’s Office of the Inspector General found, in a report released Monday, that the agency’s Lead Action Plan, which is meant to curb children’s exposure to lead, lacked measurable outcomes.

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The report concluded that the agency did not have “an effective strategy” for implementing and enforcing the Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting (RRP) rule. The watchdog said the agency did not have controls to measure how effective the program would be in achieving its goals and said there was a lack of communication between the two EPA departments that oversee the rule.

“The EPA does not have an effective strategy to implement and enforce the lead-based paint rule,” the inspector general wrote in its report.

"Explicit and measurable program objectives, goals and outcomes are needed to demonstrate whether the RRP program is achieving its intended results to protect the public by addressing hazards associated with renovation, repair and painting activities in target housing and child-occupied facilities."

The EPA did not respond to a request for comment.

The RRP rule specifically focuses on the renovation of homes built before 1978, where work might disturb lead-based paint. The rule was first established in 2008 and requires workers to be certified in lead-safe practices and certified by the EPA.

Lead is a toxic substance and when ingested or put in the bloodstream it can lead to kidney and brain damage. It’s especially dangerous to young children, leading to developmental disorders. Children are also more likely to be exposed to lead due to lead dust which collects on low surfaces.

There is no safe level of lead exposure.

Environmental groups called the EPA’s approach to the lead rule “primarily a public relations tool.” 

“Based on the failures and shortcomings described by the Inspector General, it appears that the Trump Administration’s Lead Action Plan was primarily a public relations tool rather than a document to focus and prioritize the agency's efforts to reduce children’s exposure to lead from these renovation projects,” Tom Neltner, chemicals policy director at the Environmental Defense Fund, said in a statement Monday.

Environmentalists have previously challenged the EPA for its handling of regulations on lead, most recently filing a lawsuit in August arguing the agency doesn’t do enough to protect children from lead contamination. Two environmental activist groups sued over the EPA’s finalized June Dust-Lead Hazard Standards, which they argue are too lax to protect families. 

The rule, rolled out jointly by EPA Administrator Andrew WheelerAndrew WheelerOvernight Energy: Trump officials formally revoke California emissions waiver | EPA's Wheeler dodges questions about targeting San Francisco over homelessness | 2020 Dems duke it out at second climate forum EPA head dodges questions about environmental action against San Francisco Yang floats nominating Inslee as 'climate czar' MORE and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben CarsonBenjamin (Ben) Solomon CarsonBen Carson's remarks during San Francisco visit spark backlash Democrats blast HUD for removing LGBT language from grant competition Senior HUD official reprimanded for making political statements on the job MORE, was meant to protect children from harmful lead exposure.

“Trump’s EPA had a chance to follow mainstream science and correctly update these standards for children’s sake,” Earthjustice attorney Eve Gartner said at the time. “Instead it botched the opportunity and gave families a rule that falls far short of protecting children.”