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May 10, 2005 - EPA Avoids Lead-Based Paint Rules

The Environmental Protection Agency has delayed work on completing required rules to protect children and construction workers from exposure to lead-based paint, exploring instead the possibility of using voluntary standards to govern building renovations and remodeling.  EPA officials emphasize that they are concerned about lead exposure and its effect on children. They also point to an internal study showing that the cost of the regulations -- $1.7 billion to $3.1 billion annually -- could be an overwhelming burden for the mostly small businesses that renovate buildings.

EPA spokeswoman Eryn Witcher said the agency had not abandoned the possibility of issuing mandatory regulations, and that it was simply exploring alternatives that might be more effective, as well as less costly to industry and the public. The EPA move, first disclosed in documents provided by an agency whistle-blower, has prompted angry questions from Democrats in Congress, the attorneys general of New York and Illinois, and public health advocates around the country.

One organization is threatening a lawsuit against the agency for failing to issue the rules, as required by law.

On Monday, five members of Congress wrote to EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson, demanding an explanation for the EPA's "apparent abandonment of regulations required by law to protect children from exposure to lead." The lawmakers -- led by two California Democrats, Rep. Henry A. Waxman of Los Angeles and Sen. Barbara Boxer -- complained that the EPA's action, which was never announced publicly, breached federal toxic-substance laws.

The regulations were to require that only certified contractors, using workers trained in lead-safety practices, be used for remodeling work in buildings constructed before 1978, when the use of lead-based paint for housing was banned.

Lead-paint exposure threatens about 1.4 million children a year, according to the EPA. In 2000, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that about 434,000 children had dangerous levels of lead in their blood, and said that minority children had been disproportionately affected. However, an agency estimate showed that such rules would provide health benefits of greater value, from $2.7 billion to $4.2 billion annually.

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