Selected category: Regulation

Crucial – but unfulfilled – role local code officials have in protecting children from lead

Tom Neltner, Chemicals Policy Director

The tragedy in Flint, Michigan has reminded us once again how dependent we are on state and local officials to protect us from hidden threats like lead. In hindsight, anyone with a basic understanding of the role of corrosion control in keeping lead out of the water we drink knows that changing the source of that water, especially to one as corrosive as the Flint River, must be done with extreme care. Based on criminal indictments that have been handed down, the officials ignored the federal regulations designed to prevent such a tragedy.

State and local building code officials will have a chance this October to show whether they have learned from Flint. As voting members of the International Code Council (ICC), code officials will cast their ballot on a simple proposal that can significantly improve the protections for children from lead hazards. The proposal by the National Center for Healthy Housing (NCHH) would require that any contractor seeking a building permit to conduct renovations in homes built before 1978 be properly certified to ensure that their work leaves behind no dangerous levels of lead contaminated dust. Read More »

Also posted in EPA, Health Policy, lead, Uncategorized| Tagged , , , , , , , | Read 1 Response

People deserve to know if lead pipes and paint are present where they live and work

Tom Neltner, the Chemicals Policy Director

We live in an increasingly transparent world. When it comes to the real estate market, companies are mining local government databases to let us know the size of a home, how much it’s worth, and even when the roof was last replaced.

Yet, you can’t find out if the house you might buy could poison your children with toxic lead. Federal law only requires that the seller or landlord reveal the presence of lead paint when you sign a contract to buy or rent a home.

We think that has to change.

People should be able to readily know if lead is present in the paint and water pipes where they live and work when they begin making important decisions, not when they are finalizing the deal. When shopping for a place to live, the best time to learn if there is lead at a property is when it is listed for sale or rent. Some opponents claim that revealing this information invades the resident’s privacy, but the presence of lead is not about anyone’s behavior. Rather, it’s a fact about the house, a legacy of the construction of the building. It is no different from the type of furnace or number of bedrooms.

There are signs of progress. In Washington, DC, the water utility has launched an online map that reveals information that can help improve transparency on lead pipes. Anyone can check online and see what’s known (and not known) about the presence of lead service lines that connect the drinking water main under the street to their home or business.

It’s a model other communities should follow. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has made this type of transparency a priority for states and utilities. And the private sector needs to play a role, too — real estate innovators like Zillow and Redfin, who have transformed how we find homes, should include this information in their online listings.

It’s time that people begin to know the possible health impacts of their housing options when evaluating homes to buy or rent.

Also posted in Drinking Water, EPA, Flint, lead, Markets and Retail, Uncategorized| Tagged , , , , , , , , | Comments are closed

Lost opportunity for safer food additives

In DC, “Take Out the Trash Day” refers to federal agencies releasing unpopular decisions on Friday when the media and public are not watching.  It is especially common around the holidays or in August when many people, especially those in Congress are on vacation.  On Friday, August 12, FDA took out the trash by issuing a final rule regarding chemicals added to food more than two weeks before a court ordered deadline

Tom Neltner, Chemicals Policy Director

On August 12, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a final rule defining how companies should voluntarily notify the agency when they conclude that a chemical added to or used to make food is “Generally Recognized as Safe” (GRAS).

The decision is a lost opportunity to close a widely-abused loophole that allows chemicals to be approved for use in food with no notification to or review by FDA. The rule allows the industry to continue making secret decisions about what we eat without the agency’s – or the public’s – knowledge.  The agency has the legal authority to significantly narrow the GRAS loophole to prevent companies from deliberately avoiding FDA’s safety review process.

Just two years ago, the senior FDA official overseeing food safety acknowledged that the agency “cannot vouch for the safety of many of these chemicals” as a result of the GRAS loophole. Read More »

Also posted in FDA, Food, GRAS, Health Policy| Tagged , , , , | Comments are closed

EPA tells Rep. Israel a Household Action Level for lead in drinking water will come “later this year”

Tom Neltner, Chemicals Policy Director

In early 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) first committed to developing a level that would provide context for those trying to assess an infants’ risk from lead in their drinking water.

An infant’s developing brain is extremely vulnerable to lead. Many parents rely on formula made from drinking water to feed their children. So if that water contains lead, the child is likely to be harmed.

A “Household Action Level” would help parents and public health officials know when lead in the drinking water reaches a level likely to produce an “elevated blood lead level” in an infant who is fed formula. This information can help parents and communities make informed choices about how to protect their children.

So we were pleased to see Rep. Steve Israel’s (D-NY) tweet about EPA's response to his questions regarding the Household Action Level. As a member of the House subcommittee that funds the nation’s water programs, Israel asked the agency to provide an update on the agency’s efforts to release a Household Action Level for committee record.

Read More »

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

FDA accepting public comments on the safety of ortho-phthalates

Tom Neltner, Chemicals Policy Director.

Today, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced it was accepting public comment on a food additive petition asking the agency to reconsider the safety of 30 toxic chemicals known as ortho-phthalates, which are used as additives in food packaging and handling materials.

The announcement, to be published in tomorrow’s Federal Register, comes shortly after a new study by Dr. Ami Zota published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives found that individuals who consume large amounts of fast food have higher levels of exposure to two of the most commonly-used phthalates—diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP) and diisononyl phthtlate (DiNP). Because the study was about fast food, final food packaging is less likely to be a major source than food handling equipment, including gloves. Read More »

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Washington Post looks at the long and painful history of Lead in Drinking Water rule

Sarah Vogel, Vice-President for Health.

If you missed last week’s Washington Post piece, “The EPA’s lead-in-water rule has been faulted for decades. Will Flint hasten a change?”  we suggest you go back and take a look. Post reporter Brady Dennis takes us back to the beginning to figure out how a federal rule intended to help ensure safe drinking water nationwide faltered, and why it has taken so long to fix.

In 1991, EPA issued the Lead and Copper Rule to reduce lead in drinking water that primarily relied on corrosion control. But initial progress stalled and the rules shortcomings became clear. As EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy explained at a recent hearing, the rule “needs to be strengthened.” Critics claim the outdated rule has become too easy to evade and too hard to enforce.

EPA now is developing an overhaul of the rule. Given the complexity and scope of the challenge, as my colleague Tom Neltner points out, the stakes are high and the agency needs to get it right.

Neltner should know. He served on the expert panel advising the EPA National Drinking Water Advisory Council (NDWAC) which looked at the rule’s flaws. For example, EPA’s original “lead action level” was based on whether or not corrosion control was working and not on the health risk. The group Neltner served on recommended establishing a new health-based “household action level” that will empower people to make informed choices about how to manage their risk to lead hazards in water. In February 2015, EPA agreed to develop an estimated level for the panel to consider. Given the consumer’s need for the number as a result of Flint, EDF has urged that the agency move quickly to release the household action level.

EPA has indicated the lead rule update will be issued in 2017. But with bipartisan Hill support and a new Presidential Administration on the horizon, many are anxious to see it move faster.

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