Harlem-Based WE ACT And Others Suing EPA Over Lead Hazard Standards

August 1, 2019

WE ACT for Environmental Justice (WE ACT) is one of several organizations that have joined forces to sue the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in federal court for failing to establish adequate protective lead hazard standards for older housing and child-occupied facilities. The updated standards, which determine whether these structures and their surrounding soil pose a risk to humans, were released in June 2019, and they fall far short of what experts consider safe and adequate in terms of protecting public health.

The two most common forms of exposure are lead-based paint, which is most commonly found in older buildings, and lead dust. The dust is created when lead-based paint disintegrates over time or is disturbed through sanding or other actions, creating toxic dust that can spread throughout the building and leech into the soil. Prolonged exposure among adults can cause kidney damage and other health issues. But lead poses the greatest risk to children, impairing the development of the brain and nervous system which can lead to permanent and profound health issues.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is no safe level of lead exposure for children, which is why the EPA’s lax lead hazard standards are so alarming. And it estimates that about half-a-million children in the U.S. suffer from lead poisoning. Yet 50 percent of the children living in homes that meet the EPA’s new lead hazard standards will accumulate enough lead in their blood that they will require a health intervention under the EPA’s own guidelines.

“Under the Trump administration, we have seen the EPA consistently rollback or undermine rules and regulations designed to protect the American public, and this is the latest and arguably one of the most egregious examples of putting the interests of businesses above the people,” said Cecil Corbin-Mark, Deputy Director and Director of Policy Initiatives at WE ACT for Environmental Justice. “And the fact that the standards don’t even comply with the EPA’s own guidelines for intervention is inexcusable.”

The EPA’s revised lead hazard standards stem from an earlier lawsuit, which was litigated by Earthjustice, one of WE ACT’s fellow complainants on this current suit. As a result of that initial lawsuit, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the EPA back in 2017 to update its lead hazard standards for housing and child-occupied facilities built prior to 1978, when lead-based paint was banned in the U.S. These new standards, which took the EPA nearly two years to develop, still fall far short of what is needed to protect America’s children from lead poisoning, and that is why WE ACT has joined Earthjusitce’s new lawsuit along with A Community Voice, California Communities Against Toxics, Healthy Homes Collaborative, New Jersey Citizen Action, New York City Coalition to End Lead Poisoning, the Sierra Club, and United Parents Against Lead.

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“The bottom line is that there is no safe level of lead exposure for children, and any standard that falls short of that jeopardizes the health of millions of children across the country,” added Corbin-Mark. “And this is particularly offensive to low-income communities and communities of color, in which residents tend to reside in older structures and often must rely on a landlord’s compliance with these guidelines.”

WE ACT for Environmental Justiceis a Northern Manhattan membership-based organization whose mission is to build healthy communities by ensuring that people of color and/or low-income residents participate meaningfully in the creation of sound and fair environmental health and protection policies and practices. WE ACT has offices in New York and Washington, D.C. Visit us at weact.org

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