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Friday, March 18, 2022

AG HEALEY CALLS ON EPA TO STRENGTHEN PROTECTIONS TO ADDRESS THE HEALTH DANGERS OF LEAD

AG HEALEY CALLS ON EPA TO STRENGTHEN PROTECTIONS TO ADDRESS THE HEALTH DANGERS OF LEAD 

Multistate Coalition Identifies Broad-based Effort to Combat Lead Poisoning Risks as Vital to Remedying Longstanding Environmental Injustices 


BOSTON – Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey joined a coalition of 19 attorneys general in calling on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to strengthen protections against lead poisoning, particularly for children living in underserved and disadvantaged communities that are already overburdened with environmental harm.  


In its comments, the coalition calls EPA’s “Draft Strategy to Reduce Lead Exposures and Disparities in U.S. Communities,” a strong starting point to addressing the serious public health issue of lead poisoning, and lays out further recommendations for how the agency should strengthen its plan to more aggressively combat the many ways in which people – especially children – are exposed to lead including through paint, drinking water, soils, aviation fuel, air, food, and occupational hazards. 


“Lead poisoning poses serious long-lasting health risks for our children,” AG Healey said. “This is a devastating source of health inequity caused by years of systemic injustices, and we are calling on the EPA to move quickly and do more to protect our children from further harm.” 


Lead is a highly toxic metal that can cause serious and irreversible health effects. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that children in at least 4 million households nationwide are exposed to high levels of lead. A 2021 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics found that more than half of the children in the U.S. have detectable levels of lead in their blood. Lead poisoning is a major health equity issue: that study also found that elevated blood lead levels in children are closely related to poverty, race, and their lack of access to newer housing. According to other research, children living in low-income communities in Massachusetts are nearly four times more likely to have elevated blood lead levels than higher-income communities. 

Children who have been exposed to even very low levels of lead are at risk for neurological and physical problems during critical stages of early development. In fact, there is no safe level of lead for children. Children under the age of 6 are more likely to be exposed to lead than any other age group, as their normal behaviors could result in them chewing lead paint chips; breathing in or swallowing dust from old lead paint that gets on floors, windowsills, and hands; and eating certain foods, playing in soil, and handling other consumer products.  

 

According to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health’s 2020 Annual Childhood Lead Poisoning Surveillance Report, lead paint is the primary source of childhood exposure in the state, and Massachusetts has the third oldest housing stock in the country, making lead exposure a significant risk for the state’s children. In 2020, 420 children in the state were found to have lead poisoning, however because of the ongoing public health crisis, lead screening was down 10 percent in 2020, and the prevalence of lead poisoning increased.  


The multistate coalition’s comments urge EPA to build on the efforts identified in the draft strategy to increase public health protections, address legacy lead contamination for communities with the greatest risk of exposure, and promote environmental justice, by calling on the agency to implement other aggressive measures including:  

 

  • Increasing resources for enforcing existing laws relating to lead paint in rental housing and amending existing regulations to require landlords to increase the frequency of inspections of houses with a history of lead paint hazards; 
  • Developing proactive policies and standards for hazardous waste sites, drinking water, and other sources of lead exposure that are more protective of public health and designed to reduce lead poisoning; 
  • Developing aggressive deadlines for tightening standards, developing enforcement policies, and conducting an endangerment determination for lead in aviation gas under the Clean Air Act; 
  • Identifying meaningful environmental justice targets to ensure that the communities most in need and vulnerable populations are protected;
  • Encouraging inter-agency collaboration and data-sharing with other federal agencies; 
  • Allocating federal funds to replace drinking water service lines containing lead that reach historically marginalized communities; 
  • Requiring the testing of water and remediation of lead service lines and lead plumbing fixtures in public, charter, and private schools and in childcare centers; and  
  • Expanding multi-language informational campaigns and blood lead testing programs to address “take-home lead” exposure - lead from work that accumulates on a worker’s clothing and shoes.   

Joining AG Healey in submitting the comments are the attorneys general of New York, California, the District of Columbia, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Connecticut, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Wisconsin.  


Handling this matter for Massachusetts are Assistant Attorney General Brian Clappier and Senior Enforcement Counsel Lou Dundin of AG Healey’s Environmental Protection Division. 

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