Selected tag(s): EPA

Progress takes vigilance to reduce children’s exposure to lead

Tom Neltner, J.D.is Chemicals Policy Director

The United States has made significant progress over the past fifteen years towards reducing children’s exposure to lead. While much more needs to be done to eliminate the more than $50 billion a year in societal costs from lead, the progress is good news for children since it is well known that there is no safe level of lead in children, and it can impair their brain development, contribute to learning and behavioral problems, and lower IQs.

Achieving this progress has required a diligent and ongoing commitment from all levels of government. If we expect to continue to make progress – and not backslide – the federal government needs to remain committed to reducing sources of lead exposure. So far what we’ve seen from the Trump Administration raises serious concerns about any real commitment to protecting children’s health, including from lead.

Lead has a toxic legacy from decades of extensive use in paint, gasoline, and water pipes. As long as lead is in the paint, pipes, and soil where we live, work and play, progress is far from inevitable. Protecting children from lead takes constant vigilance, especially when the paint or plumbing is disturbed. Flint provided a tragic example of what happens when we turn away. Without vigilance, the positive trends we have seen in blood lead levels could all too easily reverse course and go up. That is why the proposed cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) budget, which would eliminate the agency’s lead-based paint programs, are yet another indication that this Administration is turning its back on protecting children’s health.

Mean blood lead levels in young children dropped 56% from 1999 to 2014

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) demonstrates that from 1999 to 2014 the levels of lead in children’s blood or “blood lead levels” (BLL) dropped preciptiously. Average BLLs in young children declined by 56% during that period with the rate of decline increasing after 2010. For children with a BLL greater than 5 micrograms of lead per deciliter (µg/dL), the reduction was an impressive 86%. Read More »

Posted in Drinking Water, EPA, Health Policy, lead, Regulation| Also tagged , , , , , | Read 2 Responses

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.

Posted in Drinking Water, EPA, Flint, lead, Regulation| Also tagged , , , , , , | Comments are closed

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 »

Posted in Drinking Water, Emerging Science, Flint, lead| Also tagged , , , , | Comments are closed

When it comes to lead, formula-fed infants get most from water and toddlers from food, but for highest exposed children the main source of lead is soil and dust

Tom Neltner, J.D.is Chemicals Policy Director

On January 19, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a major new draft report proposing three different approaches to setting health-based benchmarks for lead in drinking water. We applauded EPA’s action and explored the implications for drinking water in a previous blog. One of the agency’s approaches provides useful, and surprising, insights into where the lead that undermines the health of our children comes from. Knowing the sources enables regulators and stakeholders to set science-based priorities to reduce exposures and the estimated $50 billion that lead costs society each year.

The EPA draft report is available for public comments until March 6, 2017, and it is undergoing external peer-review by experts in the field in support of the agency’s planned revisions to its Lead and Copper Rule (LCR) for drinking water. Following this public peer-review process, EPA expects to evaluate and determine what specific role or roles a health-based value may play in the revised LCR. With the understanding that some of the content may change, here are my takeaways from the draft:

  • For the 20% of most exposed infants and toddlers, dust/soil is the largest source of lead. Since we know that 21% of U.S. homes (24 out of 114 million) have lead-based paint hazards, this should not be surprising.
  • For most infants, lead in water and soil/dust have similar contributions to blood lead levels, with food as a smaller source. If the infant is formula-fed, water dominates.
  • For 2/3 of toddlers, food appears to provide the majority of their exposure to lead. This result was a surprise for me. EPA used data from the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Total Diet Study collected from 2007 to 2013 coupled with food consumption data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey collected from 2005 to 2011. In August 2016, FDA reported on levels of lead (and cadmium in food) commonly eaten by infants and toddlers based on a data set that is different from its Total Diet Study. FDA concluded that these levels, “on average, are relatively low and are not likely to cause a human health concern.”
  • For all children, air pollution appears to be a minor source of lead exposure. We think it is most likely because exposure is localized around small airports and industrial sources.

For a visual look at the data, we extracted two charts from the draft EPA report (page 81) that show the relative contribution of the four sources of lead for infants (0-6 month-olds) and toddlers (1 to <2 year-olds) considered by the agency. The charts represent national exposure distributions and not specific geographical areas or age of housing.

Read More »

Posted in Drinking Water, Emerging Science, EPA, FDA, Food, Health Policy, lead| Also tagged , , , , , | Comments are closed

With draft report, EPA takes major step to help communities assess risks from lead in drinking water

Tom Neltner, J.D.is Chemicals Policy Director

Communities around the country are testing their water for lead. But when they get the results, parents, public health officials, housing agencies and school officials have little guidance about what the number means and what actions to take or priorities to set. For lead in dust and soil in homes, child-care and schools, they have health-based numbers that serve as benchmarks for assessing risk. There is no such benchmark for drinking water. As a result, many are using the “Lead Action Level” of 15 parts per billion (ppb) as a surrogate. Yet, this level is based on the effectiveness of corrosion control; it has no relation to the associated health risks of lead exposure.

Yesterday, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) helped fill the void by releasing a draft report that provides three different approaches to setting a scientifically-robust “health-based benchmark” for lead in drinking water. The agency is seeking public comment on the draft and will convene a panel of scientific experts to consider each of the approaches.

The report is a critical step in implementing the recommendations of the agency’s National Drinking Water Advisory Council (NDWAC) which called for this type of health-based benchmark as part of an overhaul of the Lead and Copper Rule. The agency went a step further and provides alternatives to consider. We applaud EPA for its action and its rigorous, scientific analysis.

Accounting for the various models and assumptions, EPA developed a range of potential health-based benchmarks that range from 3 to 56 ppb of lead in water that people actually drink. However, you cannot readily compare these values to the typical water testing results reported by utilities or schools. Those tests are based on the first draw of water that has been sitting in the faucet and plumbing overnight and do not necessarily reflect what people drink over the course of a day. Later samples would likely be lower but could be higher if the building has a lead service line, especially if the line has been disturbed. Read More »

Posted in Drinking Water, Health Science, lead, Regulation, Uncategorized| Also tagged , , , , | Read 2 Responses

Perchlorate regulation: Critical opportunities for EPA and FDA to protect children’s brains

Tom Neltner, J.D.is Chemicals Policy Director

All Americans who have been tested have perchlorate in their bodies. Perchlorate threatens fetal and child brain development by impairing the thyroid’s ability to transport iodine in the diet into the gland to make a thyroid hormone, known as T4, that is essential to brain development. Both the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are scheduled to make decisions in 2017 that could significantly reduce exposure to this hazardous chemical.

Based on statements in a new report by EPA, we estimate that at least 20% of pregnant women are already iodine deficient, resulting in T4 levels that put the fetuses’ developing brains at risk. For this population of pregnant women, any perchlorate exposure results in an even greater risk of impaired brain development in their children and potentially a lifetime of behavioral and learning difficulties.

This is why it is critical that our public health agencies take actions to reduce exposure to perchlorate with a focus on this vulnerable population. There are three key decisions to be made in the coming year:

  1. EPA will decide in January 2017 whether hypochlorite bleach, an antimicrobial pesticide, degrades to perchlorate in significant amounts. If EPA agrees it does, the agency must set standards to limit that degradation as part of its 15-year update to the pesticide’s registration. Bleach is a widely-used disinfectant in food manufacturing facilities and likely a significant source of perchlorate in contaminated foods. Research shows that reducing hypochlorite concentration limits degradation and this, coupled with expiration dates on the product would significantly reduce exposure to perchlorate.
  2. FDA will decide whether perchlorate should continue allowing perchlorate to be added to plastic packaging for dry food at levels up to 12,000 ppm to reduce buildup of static charges. The agency has evidence that the perchlorate migrates from the packaging into food, especially when it flows in and out of the container. In response to a lawsuit filed by public interest organizations, FDA told a court that it aims to make a final decision by the end of March 2017. A 2008 report by FDA indicated that almost 75% of all food types are contaminated with perchlorate.
  3. EPA told a court that it will complete external peer review of a dose-response model in October 2017 and sign a proposed rule to regulate perchlorate in drinking water a year later. This model is a critical step in establishing a drinking water standard for perchlorate pursuant to its 2011 determination that an enforceable standard was necessary under the Safe Drinking Water Act. The perchlorate is most likely from contaminated source waters (e.g. from military and defense industry activities and some fertilizer use in agricultural regions) or from degradation of hypochlorite bleach used to disinfect water. EPA acted in response to a lawsuit by the Natural Resources Defense Council.

To guide their decision-making, FDA and EPA collaborated to develop a biologically-based dose-response model to predict T4 levels in pregnant women, fetuses, and infants exposed to perchlorate. EDF and NRDC submitted joint comments on the model and the summary report requesting that EPA ensure protection of fetuses during the first two trimesters for pregnant women with serious iodine deficiencies.  These fetuses are particularly vulnerable because their thyroids is not yet functioning. The current fetal model only considers the third trimester when the fetus has a functioning thyroid. The current model fails to adequately protect their vulnerable subpopulations, falling shot of both the EPA's Science Advisory Board recommendation and the Safe Drinking Water Act requirements.

For decades, federal agencies have been charged with protecting children from environmental health risks with the recognition that they are uniquely vulnerable to chemical exposures. The upcoming decisions on perchlorate present critical opportunities to protect what many of us value the most—our children’s health and their ability to learn and thrive to their fullest potential.

Posted in Drinking Water, Emerging Science, EPA, FDA, Food, Health Policy, perchlorate, Regulation, Uncategorized| Also tagged , , , , , , , | Comments are closed
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