Selected category: Flint

Dr. Herbert Needleman, in memoriam

Richard Denison, Ph.D.is a Lead Senior Scientist.

At a time when public health and the environment, independent science and even basic truths are under sustained assault, we need more than ever to recognize scientists who persevered even in the face of concerted attacks by ideological and industry interests to discredit them and divert attention from the implications of their work.

Dr. Herbert Needleman, who passed away this month at the age of 89, was a shining example.   Read More »

Also posted in Health Policy, Health Science, lead| Comments are closed

EPA's Children’s Health Protection Advisory Committee recommends four top priorities for EPA to protect kids from lead

Tom Neltner, J.D.is Chemicals Policy Director

For the past 20 years, the Children’s Health Protection Advisory Committee (CHPAC), with its diverse members that include pediatricians and industry toxicologists, has been responding to requests for guidance from Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrators. In December 2016, EPA’s Administrator asked CHPAC to provide the agency with its “highest priority advice” on lead. Citing the children’s health risks posed by lead, the economic and racial disparities and the demonstrated effectiveness of national leadership on the issue, on April 6, CHPAC sent the new administrator, Scott Pruitt, a letter with its four recommended priorities:

  1. Strengthen the Agency’s Lead-Based Paint Hazards Standard for lead in paint, dust, and soil. CHPAC stated that the “best evidence shows that a young child living in a home meeting the current lead dust standard still has a 50% chance of exceeding the CDC reference level for blood lead.” The EPA standard is so insufficient and outdated that on February 1, 2017, the Department of Housing and Urban Development said it would require its lead hazard control grantees to meet a more protective level that is one-fourth of EPA’s standard.
  1. Revise the Lead and Copper Rule to reduce lead in drinking water. CHPAC highlighted several high profile incidents of high levels of lead in drinking water and called for EPA to overhaul its 1991 Lead and Copper Rule to better protect children, especially infants dependent on formula for nutrition. CHPAC recommended the revisions be consistent with the recommendations from the agency’s National Drinking Water Advisory Committee and the lessons from recent water system lead contaminations.
  1. Improve risk communication efforts to provide clarity and consistency. CHPAC asked that EPA revise its “Protect Your Family from Lead In Your Home” booklet that is given to every family buying or renting a home built before 1978 so that it more effectively helps families make decisions regarding the risks posed by lead. The committee cited three problems with the booklet, it:
    • insufficiently describes other important lead sources including, but not limited to, drinking water faucets, plumbing, traditional and cultural products, and take-home exposures from work”;
    • treats all homes built before 1978 as equal and does not explain that the likelihood of having lead-based paint varies dramatically based on the age of the home”; and
    • “relies heavily on text rather than graphics making it less effective for some audiences.”
  1. Encourage the Administration’s infrastructure investment program to support healthy housing, childcare facilities, and schools, and safe drinking water. CHPAC recommended that EPA work closely with other federal partners on the President's Task Force on Environmental Health Risks and Safety Risks to Children to help ensure that all Administration infrastructure investment programs make housing, childcare facilities, and schools healthier, and drinking water safer.

The letter was sent a day after the Washington Post reported on a leaked March 21, 2017 agency memo that details how EPA plans to execute the 31% cuts to its overall budget called for in the President’s proposed budget. The article’s headline says it all: “Trump’s EPA moves to dismantle programs that protect kids from lead paint.” If Congress goes along with these cuts, it is difficult to imagine how the agency could fulfill its basic responsibilities much less implement CHPAC’s recommendations to protect kids from lead.

Also posted in Drinking Water, EPA, lead, Regulation| Tagged , , , , , , , | Comments are closed

Lead service lines on private property – 3 states’ approaches to the challenge

Tom Neltner, J.D.is Chemicals Policy Director

After the tragedy in Flint, Michigan, there is broad agreement that lead service lines (LSLs) need to be replaced. While corrosion control is essential, it isn’t a fail-safe, long-term solution. With the risks posed by lead to children’s brain development, we must eliminate LSLs – which currently account for an estimated 50 to 75% of the lead in drinking water.

One of the most significant challenges is determining who pays for replacing the portion of a LSL on private property and how it can be done in a way that does not leave low-income residents behind. Most utilities consider service lines on private property to be the responsibility of the property owner. They see replacing customer-owned portions of LSLs as improvements to private property and are typically restricted from using funds collected from all customers to fund an upgrade that benefits only a few. States often impose restrictions as well.

The interpretation that customers are responsible for LSLs on their property is ironic in communities such as Chicago, which mandated the use of LSLs until Congress banned them in 1986.  Given that they had a hand in creating the problem, it seems that they have at least some responsibility in fixing it. The threat posed by lead was well known for decades before Congress acted. Cities such as Cincinnati banned the use of lead pipes in 1927 and Boston in the 1930s.

It is difficult to put responsibility solely on the homeowner since they are unlikely to have been told they have a LSL by the seller. Even if they were aware that their home is serviced by an LSL, the risk a LSL poses to their family’s health is only now becoming clear.

Without support, low-income residents often cannot afford to pay for their portion of the LSL replacement, even if they get zero- or low-interest loans. However, wealthy residents have more options to make the investment than their low-income neighbors and landlords should be making the investment as part of their business.

In December 2016, Congress weighed in and authorized EPA “to establish a $300 million grant program to replace lead service lines on residential property in disadvantaged communities.”[1] It is up to Congress to appropriate the funds as part of its infrastructure investments and ensure that the grant program will not be a hollow promise.

But many states are not waiting on Congress. Three states, Indiana, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, have been wrestling with whether to allow communities to use a portion of rates paid by customers to pay for LSL replacements. Collectively, these states have an estimated 690,000 LSLs, 11% of the national estimate. In this blog, we will explore these three state approaches. Read More »

Also posted in Drinking Water, EPA, Health Policy, lead, Regulation, States| Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Read 2 Responses

EDF’s assessment of a health-based benchmark for lead in drinking water

Tom Neltner, J.D.is Chemicals Policy Director

Health professionals periodically ask me how they should advise parents who ask about what constitutes a dangerous level of lead in drinking water. They want a number similar to the one developed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for lead in dust and soil (which is the primary source of elevated blood lead levels in young children). I usually remind them that EPA’s 15 parts per billion (ppb) Lead Action Level is based on the effectiveness of treating water to reduce corrosion and the leaching of lead from plumbing; it has no relation to health. Then I tell them that EPA is working on one and to hold tight. Admittedly, that is not very satisfying to someone who must answer a parent’s questions about the results of water tests today.

On January 12, EPA released a draft report for public comment and external peer review that provides scientific models that the agency may use to develop potential health-based benchmarks for lead in drinking water. In a blog last month, I explained the various approaches and options for benchmarks that ranged from 3 to 56 ppb. In another blog, I described how EPA’s analysis provides insight into the amounts of lead in food, water, air, dust and soil to which infants and toddlers may be exposed. In this blog, I provide our assessment of numbers that health professionals could use to answer a parent’s questions. Because the numbers are only a start, I also suggest how health professionals can use the health-based benchmarks to help parents take action when water tests exceed those levels.

EDF’s read on an appropriate health-based benchmark for individual action on lead in drinking water

When it comes to children’s brain development, EDF is cautious. So we drew from the agency’s estimates calculated by its model to result in a 1% increase in the probability of a child having a blood lead level (BLL) of 3.5 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood (µg/dL).

EDF's assessment of a health-based benchmark for individual action on lead in drinking water
Age of child in home and type of exposureHouses built before 1950¹Houses built 1950 to 1978²Tests show no lead in dust or soil³
Formula-fed infant3.8 ppb8.2 ppb11.3 ppb
Other children 7 years or younger5.9 ppb12.9 ppb27.3 ppb

Read More »

Also posted in Drinking Water, Emerging Science, lead| Tagged , , , , , | Comments are closed

EDF joins with 22 organizations to launch Lead Service Line Replacement Collaborative

Tom Neltner, J.D.is Chemicals Policy Director

Accelerating full replacement of lead service lines (LSL) – the lead pipes that runlslr-collaborative-logo from the drinking water main under the street to homes – is a priority for EDF. These pipes are the primary source of lead in water and, when disturbed, may release lead particles that expose consumers, without warning, to extremely high levels. As part of the effort to encourage safe and effective removal of LSLs replacement, EDF helped launch a new Lead Service Line Replacement Collaborative with 23 national public health, water utility, environmental, labor, consumer, housing, and state and local governmental organizations to help communities develop and implement voluntary programs to eliminate these pipes.

Today, the Collaborative released an online toolkit to assist communities in lead service line replacement. The online toolkit includes:

  • A roadmap for getting started,
  • Suggested replacement practices to identify and remove lead service lines in a safe, equitable, and cost-effective manner,
  • Policies that federal and state leaders could adopt to support local efforts, and
  • Additional resources that may be helpful when developing local programs.

USA Today highlighted the Collaborative and the toolkit in an article also released today.

Read More »

Also posted in Drinking Water, lead| Tagged , , , | Comments are closed

Remarks at EPA stakeholder meeting on New Chemicals Review Program

Joanna Slaney is the Legislative Director for EDF Health.

Today the EPA held a public meeting on the new requirements for the New Chemicals Review Program under the reformed Toxic Substances Control Act. EDF oral comments, as prepared for delivery, follow below.

Strong implementation restores public and market confidence.

EDF believes that the reforms to the New Chemicals program in the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, and the robust implementation of these reforms by the EPA, are absolutely essential to the task of restoring public and market confidence in our national chemical safety system. It is this shared objective, restoring public and market confidence, that allowed disparate stakeholders and lawmakers to come together to support the Lautenberg Act in the first place. And without a strong New Chemicals program, there is no restored public confidence.

Without a strong New Chemicals program, there is no restored public confidence.

It’s a public health issue.

With between 500 and 1,000 new chemicals entering the market every year, ensuring the safety of these chemicals is clearly a public health priority. It is critical that new chemicals clear a safety bar before they are allowed in products and in our homes. For decades, chemicals have been allowed on the market simply because there wasn’t enough information to make a safety decision one way or another. In 2007 EPA reported that 85% of pre-manufacture notices contained no health data. That’s not right, and it puts the public’s health at risk, most especially the health of vulnerable populations like children, pregnant women, and workers. Any chemical entering the market should be reviewed and managed to provide a reasonable assurance of its safety. In fact, I expect that most Americans believe that their government already does so in order to protect their health and the health of their families.

It’s congressional intent.

Many in Congress worked hard to drive significant improvements to the new chemicals provisions in the new law; indeed, for some it was a central reason for their involvement in reforming TSCA. And the record is clear that even where certain Members were less inclined to see the need for change, they acknowledged that significant changes were made to the New Chemicals program as part of the compromise legislation. The changes that were made were a compromise on both sides but they were not insignificant, and the new requirements are clearly laid out in the language of the Lautenberg Act.

It’s a primary purpose of TSCA.

It has been argued that EPA’s implementation of the new chemicals program under the Lautenberg Act risks impeding innovation and is at odds with the intent of the law. In fact, the intent of the law is quite clear:

It is the policy of the United States that— authority over chemical substances and mixtures should be exercised in such a manner as not to impede unduly or create unnecessary economic barriers to technological innovation while fulfilling the primary purpose of this Act to assure that such innovation and commerce in such chemical substances and mixtures do not present an unreasonable risk of injury to health or the environment.

While innovation is central, it cannot come at the expense of protection for public health and the environment. Innovation without safety is not true innovation.

The changes made to the New Chemicals program are fundamental to the reform of TSCA and the promise of the new system. Given that the development and application of new chemicals are a clear source of innovation, how else is that primary purpose of TSCA – providing an assurance that innovation and commerce in chemicals do not present unreasonable risk – to be realized other than through robust scrutiny of new chemicals prior to their commercialization.

The public has a right to expect that chemicals to which they may be exposed will not be allowed into use without adequate assurance of their safety.  The lack of that basic assurance has undermined consumer confidence in our chemical safety system.  The most efficient and effective stage at which to provide assurance of safety is before commercial production and use begins, rather than waiting and then having to try to mitigate risks that arise after a new chemical is embedded in commerce.

Environmental Defense Fund supports the actions taken by EPA to date in implementing the New Chemicals Program and believes they are clearly required under the new law.  We look forward to EPA continuing to implement a robust New Chemicals program that can restore public and market confidence in our national chemical safety system, while both protecting human health and the environment and fostering safe innovation.

Also posted in EPA, Health Policy, Industry Influence, Regulation, TSCA Reform| Tagged , , , | Comments are closed
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