How a state certification program could keep our kids safe from lead
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, lead-based paint and lead-contaminated dust are the most hazardous and prevalent sources of lead exposure for U.S. children. About half the homes built before 1978 have lead-based paint, and the chance of finding lead-based paint increases with the age of the house.
Lead poisoning damages the nervous system in children and causes developmental and behavioral problems lasting a lifetime. Pregnant women and young children are especially vulnerable to the effects of lead.
According to the CDC, “approximately 24 million housing units have deteriorated leaded paint and elevated levels of lead-contaminated house dust. More than 4 million of these dwellings are homes to one or more young children.” In Detroit, up to 10,000 children are poisoned through lead paint, according to MEC member group CLEARCorps Detroit.
But home repairs and renovations can also threaten families’ health. During renovations, children can be exposed to lead paint dust that is disturbed by the work. A study done by researchers at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center found that the renovations on older homes are associated with an increase in children’s blood lead levels. Researchers also found that the children who lived in renovated homes had a 12% increase in blood levels than those in unrenovated homes. Typical home renovation activities like sanding, cutting, and demolition can create dangerous amounts of hazardous lead dust and chips. These can be harmful to adults and children.
Similar situations play out in large and small Michigan communities, rural and urban, mostly white and largely not. So what can we do about this? Create a state-run certification program for businesses that renovate, repair and repaint homes laden with lead that is stronger than our national model. The process is easier than one might think.
The EPA has a Lead Renovation, Repair, and Painting Rule (RRP) to protect families from lead-based paint. It requires firms performing renovation, repair, and painting projects on homes or child-occupied facilities built before 1978 to be certified by the EPA or an EPA-authorized state. Firms must also pay a fee for a training course from an EPA-accredited training provider to get certified.
The RRP also requires firms to have a certified renovator assigned to each job where lead-based paint is disturbed. A renovator must complete an EPA or state-approved training course conducted by an EPA-authorized program to become certified.
When a certified firm takes on a project, it must use lead-safe work practices to reduce the amount of dust produced by renovation activities, keeping both workers and families safe. These techniques include covering work areas with taped-down plastic sheeting and keeping work areas closed off from the rest of the home. Ducts must be covered and closed. Workers must wear protective clothing and shoes and wash their hands and faces each time they stop working.
The EPA runs its RRP program through regions unless a state wants it delegated to them. A state’s RRP program must be at least as protective as the EPA RRP program and provide adequate enforcement to get the program delegated to them. The EPA has delegated authority to implement the RRP Rule to 14 states, including three in the Midwest. States who haven’t got the RRP program delegated to them are put into EPA regions. EPA Region 5 serves Michigan, five other states and 35 tribes.
Michigan would benefit from the EPA delegating the RRP program to the state rather than EPA Region 5 handling these protections. As a state, Michigan would also have its own best interest in mind and not be second to the region and other states. The certification process would be more streamlined, meaning more businesses could become certified and more families could live in safer homes quicker. The state could also set rules even more stringent than the U.S.’s or more attuned to Michigan residents’ and business’ needs. As an added bonus, Michigan would get the financial benefit from firms paying fees to become certified.
We at the Michigan Alliance for Lead Safe Homes and Michigan Environmental Council support Michigan having its own RRP program, one better than the EPA’s. MILASH is actively working to introduce legislation on a state program.
By Hailey Dunn