New EPA Rule Revises Lead Limits Allowed in Dust on Floors and Windowsills

After a 2017 court ruling and a change in medical guidance, the EPA has issued new standards for the amount of lead allowed in housing and buildings where children spend significant amounts of time.

The amount of lead allowed in dust on floors and windowsills will lower later this year, according to a new rule announced by the Environmental Protection Agency last month.

In its efforts to address childhood lead exposure, the EPA will revise its limits on lead in dust from 40 µg/ft2 to 10 µg/ft2 on floors and from 250 µg/ft2 to 100 µg/ft2 on windowsills. Once implemented, the change will apply to buildings where young children spend significant periods of time, such as elementary schools and daycare centers, as well as housing built before 1978.

"[The] final rule is the first time in nearly two decades EPA is issuing a stronger, more protective standard for lead dust in homes and child care facilities across the country,” Andrew Wheeler, the EPA administrator, said in a statement.

The announcement comes in the wake of new research on lead in dust since the current limits were put in place in 2001. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention previously identified a blood-lead level in children of 10 µg/dL as concerning but has since changed its guidance to state that scientists have not pinpointed a safe blood-lead level in children. The CDC now recommends that public health measures be implemented if children have a blood-lead level of 5 µg/dL.

In addition to the shift in CDC guidance, the EPA’s rule change can also be attributed to a December 2017 federal appeals court decision requiring the agency to issue new lead standards after working on them for nearly six years. At first, the EPA was given 90 days to release new standards, but the deadline was later extended after the administration asked for more time.

“This is going to protect the brains of thousands of children across the country,” Eve C. Gartner, an attorney who argued the case for tougher standards, told the New York Times at the time of the ruling.

The EPA expects that the rule will impact approximately 15,400 small businesses with only minor cost increases for most of those businesses. The potential savings in health costs range from hundreds of millions to over $2 billion, according to agency estimates.

“This rule would increase the level of environmental protection for all affected populations without having any disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects on any population, including any minority or low-income population or children,” the rule states.

The final rule also applies to environmental lead laboratories under the EPA’s National Lead Laboratory Accreditation Program by lowering the labs’ “reportable limits,” according to the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA). More information about the standards, which go into effect 180 days after publication in June, can be found here.

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