The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed stricter limits on dust from lead paint in older homes and child care facilities could have significant implications for Long Island. The new standards, if finalized, are expected to reduce lead exposures for up to 477,000 children under age 6 per year. This is particularly relevant for Long Island, where more than half of the 716,510 homes date to 1979 or before, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
The New Standards
The new standards proposed by the EPA involve tiny quantities of lead dust, measured in millionths of a gram, found in structures built before 1978, when the federal government banned lead-based paint. The proposed standards would mean that any detectable amount of lead dust would constitute a hazard. After abatement, no more than three micrograms, or millionths of a gram, could remain on any square foot of a building’s floor, with slightly more permitted on windowsills and window troughs. This is a significant reduction from the EPA’s current hazard standards of 10 micrograms per square foot for floors and 100 per square foot for window sills.
The Impact on Long Island
The proposed standards could lead to expanded efforts to eradicate the toxin on Long Island. While the change would not compel property owners or occupants to test their buildings, test results would have to be disclosed to potential buyers. This could increase the number of buildings that undergo lead dust cleanup, a process known as abatement, and make those cleanups more rigorous.
Public housing authorities could face substantial direct compliance costs to fund lead hazard reduction and testing under federal safe housing rules. Landlords and contractors, including residential remodelers and abatement firms, could pay more for specialized cleaning, floor sealing, and related work. The cost of lab testing for lead dust levels could also increase due to increased demand and the need for more sensitive testing.
The Response from the Community
The proposal has received mixed responses. While social services and environmental advocates generally support the proposal, some industry experts argue that it is extreme and would be hard to put into practice. Lee Wasserman, an abatement industry leader, warned that the proposal could create confusion and unreasonable expectations for consumers. He argued that while he supports tightening hazard standards, the proposed level is impractical.
On the other hand, medical and environmental advocates see the stiffer standards as a positive step toward public health. Dr. Robert Schwaner, medical director of the department of emergency medicine and chief of the division of toxicology at Stony Brook University Hospital, said the new standards followed decades of downward revision of the threshold for childhood lead poisoning. He expressed hope that there would be enough support to make home testing commonplace.
The EPA will accept public comment on the proposal during July and August 2023. Agency officials will make revisions based on the comments and issue a final rule, which is expected to be published in fall 2024. As Long Island and the rest of the country await the final rule, the proposed standards serve as a reminder of the ongoing efforts to protect public health, particularly the health of our children, from the dangers of lead exposure.