Midwest kids to get more blood screenings under EPA plan to tackle lead threat | KCUR 89.3

A study shows that about half of children in the United States have detectable levels of lead in their blood, despite federal regulations banning or restricting its use. The US Environmental Protection Agency has adopted a new strategy to reduce exposure, particularly in low-income communities and communities of color, which are disproportionately affected.

On Thursday, the EPA released its “Strategy to Reduce Lead Exposure and Disparities in U.S. Communities,” a plan the agency says is the first of its kind.

It outlines new ways EPA plans to work with other agencies and improve government cooperation to reduce lead exposure. It includes plans to increase blood lead screenings for children, train people for careers in lead remediation, and engage the public by posting measures and milestones on the EPA website and accepting public input on projects.

“This is the first time an agency is trying not only to reduce the amount of exposure that children and others have to face, but to actually achieve significant improvements or progress in environmental justice by addressing disparities over the long term. continuing disparities in who is adversely affected by lead,” said Carlton Waterhouse, deputy assistant administrator for the EPA’s Office of Land and Emergency Management.

The plan builds on decades of lead regulation. Housing built before 1978, when lead paint was banned for residential use, has a high chance of having lead paint. Older water line lines that are being replaced, but they do exist challenges to find where everyone is. Lead in soil from smelters and leaded gasoline were phased out and banned from automobiles in 1996 by the Clean Air Act. However, leaded fuel is still used in smaller aircraft today.

The Midwest has some of the highest detectable blood lead levels in children in the country, according to a a study published last year in The Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics. In Kansas, that number rises to 65%. In Iowa it is 76%, Missouri 82% and Nebraska 83%. All are higher than the study’s national average. The World Health Organization says there is no safe level of lead.

Part of the strategy will identify communities exposed to lead and focus on ways to reduce those levels and improve health outcomes.

“So we’re very focused on going to those places that have hotspots, going to those places and determining what the dominant and primary sources of that are in those communities,” Waterhouse said.

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Carlton Waterhouse, Deputy Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Land and Emergency Management.

EPA has 15 major Superfund sites in Region 7, which includes Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa, and Missouri. The region includes the Lead Belt mostly in southern Missouri and has a history of lead mining and smelting. The wait times for remediation were lengthy because the sites were still being worked on decades after they were designated as a Superfund site.

“The Bureau of Land and Emergency Management, which oversees the Superfund program, has had a very tight budget,” Waterhouse said, describing the backlog of work that needs to be done. Now, with a bipartisan infrastructure bill and the restoration of the Superfund tax, he believes the funding is in place to speed up the cleanup of the sites.

The plan outlines policy changes, including revisions to current residential soil lead guidelines for contaminated sites, that could lower the soil lead remediation benchmark. Currently, that level is 400 parts per million (ppm) for residential playgrounds and was set more than two decades ago. Since then, the Centers for Disease Control has lowered its elevated blood lead reference value twice, while the EPA values ​​have remained unchanged.

“The new soil guidance will update our old guidance, which is decades old, to reflect the latest science and will require, we expect, a new level of screening to be developed in this soil guidance,” Waterhouse said.

The deadline for the evaluation of this figure is June 30, 2023, which is indicated in the strategic outline.

This story comes from the Midwest Newsroom, an investigative journalism collaboration including IPR, KCUR 89.3, Nebraska Public Media News, Public Radio St. Louis and NPR.

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