A federal appeals court recently ordered the E.P.A. (Environmental Protection Agency) to revise its 17-year-old standard for the dangerous levels of lead in paint and dust. Notably, they have only given the agency one year to revise, a rare move given that the Obama administration sat on the issue for six years.
This decision aims to prioritize children across the country who the court claims have been harmed for four decades after the federal government banned the use of lead paint in homes. This move aims to revise the standard to make it stricter, with the hopes that it will protect “thousands of children across the country” according to Gartner, an attorney for Earthjustice.
The 2-to-1 decision was passed by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, means that the E.P.A. must propose a new standard within 3-months. The Trump administration had initially been asked for six years to consider the issue, a request on top of the six-year delay of the Obama administration.
Lead Poisoning is the Number One Environmental Health Threat
Understandably the court felt that this was unreasonable given new research showing that the hazards of lead paints are perhaps more significant than we might have imagined. According to the E.P.A. “lead poisoning is the number one environmental health threat” facing children under 6-years old in the United States.
The court felt that the current standards were insufficient given the significance of the thread, adding that “the children exposed to lead poisoning due to the failure of E.P.A. to act are severely prejudiced by E.P.A.’s delay” in taking action.
This ruling represents yet another setback in the efforts of the Trump administration to remove the Obama-era regulations that it believes burdens progress. But activists applauded the decision, calling it overdue and a “win for children” across the country.
Zakia Rafiqa Shabazz from Richmond, Virginia is the founder of United Parents Against Lead, an advocacy group she started after her son was found to have elevated lead levels in his blood. Her son, now 23-years old, still suffers from these effects and she maintains that the lack of action from both administrations has been frustrating and dangerous.
She noted that the most painful part of the ruling was “how many children could have been prevented from suffering the pains of lead poisoning” had action been taken earlier. Activists like Shabazz have been calling for stricter regulations for decades, and to many, it’s disheartening that is has taken this long for the courts to step in.
The E.P.A. acknowledged that more needed to be done back in 2011, agreeing that stricter rules were necessary. But following this statement they failed to take action, set timelines or develop any new rules.
Constant Delays to the Ruling Hurt Children
Ms. Gartner claims that the Obama administration, in power at the time of the statement, never gave a good reason as to why there were such significant delays.
“They just didn’t prioritize protecting kids from lead,” she said. Petitioners like her asked the appeals court in August 2016 to find that the E.P.A. had unreasonably delayed the new ruling. At this point, the Trump administration asked for six years to issue a regulation.
“They already had six years” Ms. Gartner continued, “it’s taken more than a decade to update the standard for how much lead can be in the dust before it’s considered a hazard.”
But to the surprise of Gartner and Shabazz, the court made the unusual decision to order the agency to propose a new rule within 90-days and finalize it within a year after that.
A study published in the Journal of Pediatrics in 2016 found that about 3% of children in the US exhibited high levels of lead in their blood. A spokesperson from the E.P.A. said that they “will continue to work diligently on a number of fronts to address issues surrounding childhood lead exposure from multiple sources.”