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

Tom Neltner, J.D.is 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, Regulation| Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Response

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

Tom Neltner, J.D.is 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, Regulation| Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

EPA Closes Loophole in California Rules for Formaldehyde in Wood Products

Tom Neltner, J.D.is Chemicals Policy Director

On July 27, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) signed a long-overdue final rule to protect people from formaldehyde off-gassing from composite wood products such as hardwood plywood, medium-density fiberboard, and particleboard. These products are commonly used to make furniture, cabinets, and flooring. Title VI of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) directed EPA to issue the rule and base it on the 2007 standards set by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) with a significant exception; EPA closed a loophole in CARB’s standards by extending them to cover laminated hardwood products.  Such laminated products were the focus of the Lumber Liquidators controversy in 2014.

EPA effectively threaded a needle between the legitimate interests of small furniture and cabinet manufacturers and the need to protect people from the risks posed by formaldehyde. The final rule includes changes from the proposed rule to address concerns that compliance would have been difficult for small businesses that glue a thin layer of wood veneer (a process called lamination) to composite boards that themselves comply with the rule.

EPA concluded it needed to close CARB’s loophole when studies showed that laminating operations (which CARB had exempted) release formaldehyde in excess of the CARB emission standards. EPA’s rule gives laminators using most formaldehyde adhesives seven years to get into compliance. Read More »

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Major Strides: Walmart Details Progress on Chemicals

Boma Brown-West is a Manager, Consumer Health Corporate Partnerships Program and Jennifer McPartland, Ph.D., is a Senior Scientist with the Health Program

In 2013, Walmart published its Sustainable Chemistry Policy, which focuses on ingredient transparency and advancing safer product formulations in household and personal care products. EDF worked with Walmart as it developed its policy and has advised the company during implementation and data analysis.

This past April, Walmart announced that the company achieved a 95% reduction by weight in the use of high priority chemicals of concern. Today, Walmart shared considerable additional information detailing the progress made, including the identities of the initial high priority chemicals. Let’s unpack this.

Read More »

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

Sarah Vogel, Ph.D.is 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, Regulation| Tagged , , , , , , , | Comments are closed

Senator Markey asks: What if people could buy food they know is free of secret ingredients?

Senator Markey (D-MA) asked FDA if it can require a label to tell consumers when the food they are eating contains chemicals it has not reviewed for safety. In his April 26 letter, he asked the agency to respond by May 17.

Tom Neltner, J.D.is Chemicals Policy Director.

In May 2015, 36% of consumers said that chemicals in food was their most important food safety issue and 23% of consumer said they changed their purchase habits out of concern with chemicals in their food. Leading food manufacturers responded by reformulating their products to remove artificial flavors and colors.

What if these same consumers knew that chemicals added to their food had not been reviewed for safety by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)? As the Natural Resources Defense Council made clear two years ago, 56 food additive makers chose to avoid FDA’s scrutiny by taking advantage of a loophole in the law for “Generally Recognized as Safe” (GRAS) substances. They purposely chose not to be transparent by keeping secret the safety evaluation conducted by their employees or consultants. These companies appear to make only a few of the estimated 1000 chemicals that FDA has not checked for safety or is aware they exist.

In February, we learned that 51% of consumers think that safety means not only that a product is free of harmful ingredients but that its labeling is clear and accurate. Forty-seven percent want clear information on ingredients and sourcing. With this in mind, it’s fair to assume that consumers also expect that all food chemicals are safe and known to the FDA. Many consumers would likely not buy products where the labeling failed to disclose that the food they serve their families contained ingredients the FDA has admitted it “cannot vouch for their safety".

On April 26, Senator Edward Markey (D-MA) put the issue front and center when he asked FDA whether it has “sufficient authority to require a special label on any foods or beverages containing ingredients that have been self-determined to be GRAS without an FDA review?” If FDA had sufficient authority, then “what would the label look like?” Read More »

Also posted in FDA, Food, GRAS, Markets and Retail, Regulation| Tagged , , , , | Comments are closed
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