A federal appeals court in California this week ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) must update their antiquated federal lead regulations within 90 days.
Advocates for the change have been fighting in court to get the EPA to update very outdated regulations regarding lead, a harmful neurotoxin.
The new rules will strengthen lead hazard standards. The EPA has previously concluded that “lead poisoning is the number one environmental health threat in the U.S. for children ages 6 and younger” and that the current standards are insufficient.
The previous standards the EPA was using for dangerous levels of lead in paint and dust were 17-years-old.
“This is going to protect the brains of thousands of children across the country,” said Eve C. Gartner, a staff attorney for Earthjustice, one of the groups supporting stronger standards. “It’s going to mean that children that otherwise would have developed very elevated blood lead levels will be protected from the damage associated with that, assuming EPA follows the court order.”
The 2-1 decision ordered that the EPA must propose a new rule within 90 days, as opposed to the six years the Trump administration had requested. This request was on top of the six-year long delay under former President Barack Obama. The Obama administration had asked the EPA in 2009 to make the standards more stringent. The EPA responded by establishing a review panel to examine the standards process, review scientific research and conduct a housing survey, but still had not updated the regulations.
The EPA will then need to implement a final rule within one year.
“Indeed EPA itself has acknowledged that ‘lead poisoning is the number one environmental health threat in the U.S. for children ages 6 and younger,’ and that the current standards are insufficient,” the ruling stated, adding, “The children exposed to lead poisoning due to the failure of EPA to act are severely prejudiced by EPA’s delay.”
The regulations that need updating define the standards for what is considered a dust-lead hazard and what qualifies as lead-based paint. Despite years of work to reduce lead in paint, dust and water, lead levels affecting children is still a problem, especially in parts of the Northeast.
Currently there are about half a million young children in the United States with blood lead levels above five micrograms per deciliter, the level at which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says public health intervention is needed.
Elevated blood levels can lead to aggression, lack of impulse control, hyperactivity, inability to focus, inattention and delinquent behaviors.