Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials have suggested putting an end to two programs aimed at reducing children’s exposure to lead-based paint, which is proven to have harmful impacts on developing brains and nervous systems.
The propositioned cuts, which are detailed in a lengthy budget memo divulged by The Washington Post last Friday, would roll back programs focused on decreasing lead risks by $16.61 million and would leave over seventy employees jobless. This would be part of a larger-scale Trump administration project intent on transferring responsibility for environmental and health protection to state and local governments; thus decreasing the role of the federal government in these fundamentally concerning areas.
The main risk for lead exposure is old housing stock, and about thirty-eight million homes in the U.S. still contain lead-based paint, according to estimates made by the EPA.
The termination of the two programs, which centralize their focus on training workers in the safe removal of lead-based paint and public education regarding the associated dangers. This would make it more difficult for the EPA to effectively deal with the environmental threat, according to environmental groups.
One of the programs, which is proposed to be cut, obliges professional remodelers to undertake training sessions in safe practices for removing old, lead-based paints from houses and other facilities. This training program was enacted under a 2010 EPA regulation with the intention of diminishing exposure to lead-paint chips and dust by mandating that renovators be certified in federally-approved methods of containing and cleaning up work areas in homes build prior to 1978. This regulation pertains to a wide range of renovations, including carpet removal and window replacement, in houses where pregnant women and young kids live.
Some professionals in the home renovation field have voiced criticism towards the rule, alleging that it is too expensive. They argue that some customers merely choose to hire contracts who knowingly work around the standards set by the federal government.
Lead, a powerful neurotoxin, is especially detrimental to children and the elderly. More forceful regulatory protections have been developed over time as its dangers in paint, gasoline and drinking water have been recorded by scientists over many decades.
The Centers for Disease Controlled (CDC) released a report in 2014 which contained the alarming finding that 243,000 children had blood lead levels superior to the danger threshold. It was also concluded that permanent neurological damage and behavior disorders had been linked to lead exposure, even at lower levels.
The CDC declared that, “The most common risk factor is living in a housing unit built before 1978, the year when residential use of lead paint was banned in the United States.”
Current EPA spokeswoman, Julia Valentine, stated in an email that the programs facing the threat of being eliminated are “mature,” and that their aim in cutting them is to return “the responsibility for funding to state and local entities.”
The Lead Risk Reduction Program, which may potentially be cut by $2.56 million and 72.8 full-time equivalent employees, is in charge of certifying renovators who work in buildings that could contain lead-based paint and upholding federal safety standards for projects of this nature. This Program also facilitates the education of Americans on ways in which they can minimize their expose to lead in their houses.
The second cut, of an estimated $14.05 million, would eliminate grants to state and tribal programs that deal with lead-based paint threats.
Under the Obama administrations, the EPA Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, which oversees matters related to lead-based paint programs, was headed by Jim Jones. Jones has recently stated that, “The basis for the EPA reduction is that states can do this work, but then we’re going to take away the money we’re going to give to the states. I think it’s just one of many examples in that budget of the circular thinking there that just doesn’t hold together.”
Contrastingly, the proposed cuts were praised by the National Association of the Remodeling Industry, which represents some of the major figures in the field. Fred Ulreich, the association’s chief executive, declared that the group “has long supported” the Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting Program “from EPA down to the individual states.” He furthered this point with the statement that the group programs can be run more effectively and enforcement can be more intense “the closer it is to the local contractors.”
Fourteen states run programs to train contractors on the proper handling of renovations dealing with lead paint as of now, according to the EPA’s website. The remaining states depend on the federal government to provide this training.
Erik Olson, director of the Natural Resource Defense Council’s health program, believes this move would leave children in dozens of states unprotected. Olson reasons that with no EPA program and no state program, which is true for most, then “how are you going to have compliance with the lead rules? Basically, this is the guts of the program that protects kids from lead poisoning from paint.”
As of now, state efforts to decrease lead risks on their own have had mixed results. A major example being the 2004 Lead Hazard Control Assistance Fund created by New Jersey with the intent of providing loans and grants to homeowners to enable them to remove lead-based paint form houses built prior to 1978. This noble attempt, unfortunately, only resulted in over $50 million from the fund being used to pat routine bills and salaries. Thus, having no success in terms of achieving its initial goals.
Valentine stated in an email that the agency is “working towards implementing the president’s budget based on the framework provided by his blueprint” and “while many in Washington insist on greater spending, EPA is focused on greater value and real results.” She added that the EPA wants to “partner with states to fulfill the agency’s core mission.”
The cuts in the lead-paint programs do not, however, directly impact EPA programs linked to drinking water as those fall under the domain of the agency’s Office of Water. Regardless, the same EPA memo does propose the reduction of funding and staff for the agency’s programs related to drinking water as well.
According to Craig Webb, editor-in-chief of Remodeling magazine, modifications in the federal government’s treatment of lead paint could impact hundreds of thousands of renovators. The most recent U.S. Census identified 78,000 firms with almost 300,000 employees as being within the residential remodeling field. However, due to a 2010 rule, the total number could be far higher.
This past November, the EPA declared that they had pursued over one hundred enforcement actions relating to lead-based paint risks, many of which were focused on the nation’s biggest companies, such as Lowe’s and Sears.
The National Association of Home Builders has protested the EPA’s regulation, critiquing it as “an inefficient tool for achieving the environmental and health goals of the underlying statute and rule.”
On Tuesday, Elizabeth Thompson, spokeswoman of the association, stated in an email, “At this point, it is premature to comment until something official has been announced.”
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