The EPA And Lead-Based Paint: A powerful lack of action 

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The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is responsible for enforcing legislation at the federal level that is meant to protect the environment and all the creatures dwelling in it. While written laws are highly important, they hold no real leverage without the use of power to make concepts on a page reality. Unfortunately, the strong-arm of regulations meant to protect children from exposure to lead paint is not flexing nearly as adequately as it should, creating an alarming disconnect between written protections and their actual execution by the EPA.

Lead-based paint was very popular in American homes before it was banned in 1978. An estimated 38 million homes used it, and the associated risk has not vanished since the ban. When painters and contractors work on homes painted with lead-based paint, paint flakes and associated dust can accumulate and cause serious health problems for nearby residents, especially children and pregnant mothers. According to the CDC, short-term effects from lead poisoning include abdominal pain, memory loss, headaches and weakness, with high levels of exposure causing anemia, brain damage and death. In response to these risks, contractors are supposed to take special precautions when working with lead-based paint, since normal cleaning methods do not adequately eliminate paint residue. According to an EPA training document , one must “use water, detergent and a HEPA vacuum to clean up dust effectively.” 

With such negative health consequences at stake, one would think that the EPA would strictly enforce such laws. However, according to a report by the EPA’s Office of Inspector General, the agency does not have an “effective strategy” for ensuring that contractors are educated about such precautions and are actually following them. While the EPA is supposed to track the amount of projects that renovators take on that involve lead-based paint and whether adequate practices were followed, there does not appear to be any consistent effort in this direction.  

According to Sarah Davidson, an analyst from the Office of Inspector General, the EPA “could not identify or estimate how many renovators or renovations were being conducted in each region.” The most recent list of renovations is from 2010. The report also discovered that the EPA has not tracked other crucial information about the regulations’ enforcement, such as how EPA employees educate residents about the risk associated with lead-based paint flakes and how often the EPA inspects affected properties.  

The inspections that the EPA has reported on are lacking and indicate an abysmal amount of negligence on the agency’s part. The EPA’s records suggest that fewer than one percent of renovators working on homes with lead-based paint have been inspected over the past five years. For example, in a region including Texas and four of its bordering states, the EPA reported only 18 inspections each year. This kind of carelessness sends a strong message to contractors that the standing regulations are not important, causing a snowball effect where even less workers follow proper precautions when working with lead-based paint. 

The EPA is in no position where it should be dismissing these laws. According to the CDC, tens of thousands of young children in the U.S. are exposed to dangerous amounts of lead each year, even though the use of lead in gasoline and household paints has been banned for decades. This statistic is partially due to the EPA’s blatant dismissal of laws that have been created for the protection of citizens who otherwise are virtually powerless against lead poisoning. Unfortunately, the EPA’s position on this issue does not appear to have changed from the Office of Inspector General report. The statement suggested six recommendations to the EPA, of which the agency only claimed to support two. Neither of these two recommendations involve enforcement of lead-based paint regulations or inspections of any kind. It is vital that citizens put pressure on the EPA to cease such negligence and exercise the power that they’ve been given rather than standing by, refusing to act… which is a powerful act in and of itself.  


Katherine Lee is a staff columnist for The Daily Campus. She can be reached at katherine.lee@uconn.edu.

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