EDF Health

Selected tag(s): Lead Exposure

Children’s lead exposure: Relative contributions of various sources

Tom Neltner, J.D.is Chemicals Policy Director and Dr. Ananya Roy is Health Scientist

Last week, we noted in our blog that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) dropped the statement that paint, dust and soil are the most common sources of lead in its “Protect Your Family from Lead in Your Home” booklet. Property owners provide this booklet to prospective homebuyers and tenants in housing built before 1978. The change implicitly recognizes that there is no safe level of lead in the children’s blood, and we must reduce all sources of lead exposure. It also acknowledges that the relative contribution of air, water, food, soil, dust, and paint to children’s blood lead levels is complicated. Exposure varies significantly based on age of the home, the child’s race and age, the family’s income-level, and region of the country. Any simplification obscures these important differences.

EPA’s scientists made this clear in a model published earlier this year that pulled together the available data, divided children into three age categories, and assigned children in each category into ten groups based on their overall lead exposure. For each group, they estimated the relative contribution of air, water, food, and soil/dust (from paint). Not surprisingly, children living in older homes with lead-based paint hazards by far have the most exposure to lead. For 1 to 6 year olds in the top 90-100 percentile, more than 70% of the lead in their blood is from soil and dust. The contribution from food is 20% and drinking water is 10%. For infants, soil and dust contributes to 50% of the lead in blood, while 40% is from water and 10% from food.

Since there is no known safe level of lead in blood, we must do even more to reduce children's exposure to lead-contaminated soil and dust.

However, to prioritize action at a national level, it is important to understand how different sources contribute to lead exposure in the average child as well as the most-exposed child. We used the underlying EPA data to calculate the average relative source contribution of different sources to blood lead levels for infants from birth to six months old, for toddlers 1 to 2 years old, and young children from 1 to 6 years old. The results indicate that infants have a much higher source contribution of lead from water in comparison to older children (Figure 1). For the average child 1 to 6 years old, food is the largest source of lead exposure, with 50%, followed by soil/dust then water.

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Posted in Drinking Water, Emerging Science, EPA, Health Policy, Health Science, lead, Public Health / Also tagged , , , , , | Read 1 Response

Some good news in Washington, but much more work to do on lead

Jack Pratt is Chemicals Campaign Director

You may have missed it, but early Saturday morning there was some good news in Washington. After a long delay, Congress finally passed funding to help address the public health disaster in Flint, Michigan. This is good news, but much work remains to be done, in Flint and around the country.

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

A Different Vote–One That Could Have an Impact on Lead Exposure

There’s a vote coming this month you should know about and it doesn’t involve Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. This month, the International Code Council (ICC) will consider a simple proposal to reduce lead exposures. This admittedly less monumental vote could nonetheless have a significant impact on public health and deserves our attention.

The proposal before the ICC would change the model building and residential codes to require that contractors present proof of lead-safe certification when they apply to do work on pre-1978 homes. Lead paint was banned in 1978, meaning homes built before that time are significantly more likely to contain lead paint. The certification itself is nothing new, it is already required at a federal level. Yet, most localities do not require any proof of certification when issuing permits to renovate these homes.  Update: ICC's code officials rejected the proposal. As of Jan. 11, 2017, vote tally is not yet available.

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Lead hazard disclosure: Time to better inform home buyers and renters

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

Imagine what would happen if firms like Zillow and Redfin that have transformed the real estate marketplace also helped consumers make informed decisions about health hazards in the home.

In the past 20 years, if you’ve bought or rented a home built before 1978, you’ve seen it–130 words in a dense paragraph titled “Lead Warning Statement.” Below it, the landlord or seller most likely checked the box saying he or she “has no knowledge of lead-based paint and/or lead-based paint hazards in the housing” and “has no reports or records pertaining to lead-based paint and/or lead-based paint hazards in the housing.”

By the time you read that dense paragraph, you’d have already chosen your new home, so you likely signed the forms and put the “Protect Your Family from Lead in Your Home” booklet in your to-do pile; a pile that all-t0o-easily gets lost in the chaos of a big move.

Congress created this lead hazard disclosure requirement in 1992 as part of a comprehensive law designed to protect children from lead in paint. The objective was to transform the marketplace by having buyers and renters demand homes that were either free of lead paint or, at least, lead hazards.

It has not worked out that way. The marketplace for lead-free or lead-safe homes never materialized, and sellers and landlords have little to no incentive to look for problems that might complicate the transaction.

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No Safe Level: Old pipes and paint threaten the health of America’s children

Sarah Vogel, Ph.D.is Vice-President for Health.

Since the crisis in Flint hit the national headlines, the problem of lead exposure from drinking water has come under greater scrutiny. And for good reason. Seven to ten million American homes have water delivered through service lines made of lead pipe – the primary source of lead in drinking water. But the events in Flint also highlight the fact that despite decades of decline in the levels of lead in the blood of American children, we still have a lead problem in this country. Given that there is no safe level of exposure to lead, we have a lot of work to do. The current crisis offers a new opportunity to make significant progress, and we have a record of past achievement to learn from and build upon.

Forty years ago over 13 million young children in American had blood lead levels at or above 10 micrograms per deciliter (µg/dL). By 2000, that number had decreased to just under a half a million. The greatest reductions made were among low income and children of color who had the highest blood lead levels. As a result of such significant progress, many declared victory and organizations, including EDF, shifted their focus to other environmental health issues leaving considerable work still to be done on lead.

While blood lead levels were declining, scientific evidence was mounting to show there is no safe level of exposure to lead in infants and young children. Studies showed that adverse neurological effects were happening at lower and lower levels of lead exposure. In 2012, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reduced the level of lead in blood used to identify those with elevated exposure to 5 µg/dL. Today, approximately 500,000 children have levels at or above 5 µg/dL.

Despite the major declines in children’s blood lead levels at or above 10 µg/dL and decreases in racial and income disparities since the mid-1970s, progress has stalled over the past decade. And still disparities persist. Children living in poverty remain at the greatest risk. Indeed, children in poor households are three times more likely, and African-American children are twice as likely as white children, to have elevated blood lead levels. Read More »

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

Household Action Level for Lead in Water: EPA Needs to Release Health-based Estimate

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

A new article in USA Today’s series on lead in drinking water shines a light on the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) delays in releasing a health-based “household action level” for lead. EPA’s National Drinking Water Advisory Council (NDWAC) recommended that the agency develop this number to help parents, in consultation with their pediatrician and public health agency, decide whether to invest in a filter for the water they use to make up their child’s infant formula.

Without a health-based number, people are mistakenly using EPA’s current “lead action level” of 15 parts per billion (ppb) as the level below which no action is needed. The problem is that this level has no relation to the health risk. It is based on a provision in the drinking water rule that requires utilities to undertake corrosion control and, potentially, lead service line replacement when at least 10% of worst-case sample results exceed that level.

A year after committing to develop a household action level, it appears tied up in the agency’s long overdue overhaul of its broken 1991 regulation designed to protect people from lead in drinking water. Communities all across the country are raising legitimate concerns about the safety of their water and need proper public health guidance. They should not have to wait on rulemaking for this important information. I know EPA is a regulatory agency that thinks in terms of rulemaking. But first and foremost EPA is a public health agency with responsibility to consumers for the safety of drinking water. Read More »

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