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EPA fails to tighten lead standards

| Sunday, March 10, 2013, 6:21 p.m.

The Environmental Protection Agency has no plans to revise key hazard standards that protect children from lead poisoning, despite calls for action from the agency's own scientific advisers.

The result is that children will continue to be exposed to lead particles in house dust and yard soil at levels that can cause reduced intelligence, attention disorders and other health problems, because the EPA's standards — set in 2001 — give a false sense of safety, scientists and child health advocates said.

“It's outrageous we aren't acting on what we know,” said Howard Mielke, a Tulane University soil contamination expert.

A year ago, the EPA's Children's Health Protection Advisory Committee called for the agency's “immediate and urgent attention” to several recommendations on lead poisoning issues, including revising lead dust standards.

Yet any change in the EPA's lead standard for house dust, which is under agency review because of a 2009 citizen petition, appears to be years away and would likely face opposition from the home renovation and real estate industries, which have raised concerns in the past about increased costs, EPA records indicate.

The EPA said that no action is being taken to revise the soil hazard standard — which allows five times more lead in play areas than what modeling by the state of California shows is needed to protect children from losing 1 I.Q. point.

“EPA has a longstanding commitment to reducing childhood lead poisoning,” the agency said in a statement, calling the existing soil standard effective.

The EPA's standards for dust and soil are widely used as safety benchmarks when older homes are inspected for lead paint residue and when yards and playgrounds have their soil tested for contamination. “They matter to consumers as a right-to-know issue: If you're told your home is safe and in fact it's not,” said Rebecca Morley of the National Center for Healthy Housing.

In the 12 years since the EPA set its standards, research has shown even tiny amounts of lead harm children.

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