The Biden administration proposed new federal rules on Wednesday to reduce the levels of harmful lead dust in millions of homes, schools and child care facilities.
Even though lead has been phased out of paint for decades, the harmful substance is still found in many older buildings. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that lead paint is still in about 31 million homes built before 1978, and 3.8 million of those homes are home to one or more children under the age of 6.
The EPA is proposing revising federal standards to find any level of lead dust dangerous and requiring homeowners to pay for abatement. The current standard defines hazardous levels of lead dust as 10 micrograms per square meter for floors and 100 micrograms per square meter for window sills.
If passed, the new rules would require building owners to clean up toxic lead dust, reducing lead exposure for about 250,000 to 500,00 children under 6 each year.
The federal government banned the use of lead-based paint in homes and residential buildings in 1978 because of its negative impact on the health of children, especially infants and young children. Lead exposure in young children can lead to brain and organ damage, as well as learning disabilities.
Younger children are particularly vulnerable as they crawl on floors and cling to windowsills that may be contaminated with lead-based paint dust, resulting in high exposure when they put their hands to their mouths.
“There is no safe level of lead,” Michal Freedhoff, assistant administrator for the EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, said in a statement. “Even low levels are harmful to children’s health, and this proposal would bring us closer to eradicating the dangers of lead-based paint from U.S. homes and child care facilities once and for all.”
The stronger proposal comes after a 2021 decision by a federal appeals court after the EPA was sued by public health and environmental groups over its old standard.
Biden administration officials have reiterated that this proposed rule is part of their larger agenda to remove lead from the nation’s housing and school stock.
“This proposal to safely remove lead paint, along with our other efforts to provide clean drinking water and replace lead pipes, will go a long way toward protecting the health of our next generation of leaders,” said Janet McCabe, EPA deputy administrator, in a statement.
EPA will take public comments on the new rules for 60 days.