Pittsburghers, more than any other Americans, should be mad at the Environmental Protection Agency, says Jeff Ruch.
Ruch, executive director of the Washington, D.C. group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, says the EPA has scrapped plans requiring home-renovation workers to be certified in lead clean-up to renovate a house built before lead-based paints were outlawed.
Eighty percent of local houses were built before 1978, the year lead-based paints were outlawed, a greater percentage than most U.S. cities, according to the local group Healthy Home Resources. "It is a common misconception that licking paint chips is the only way that kids get lead poisoning," says HHR spokesperson Amy Stiffey. "Most of the problems come from dust that is brought up when you renovate a house."
Instead of mandating training for renovators, the EPA plans to launch a voluntary lead-education program. Ruch believes this will put 1.4 million children in urban areas at greater risk for poisoning. He points to a 2000 report from the Battelle Corporation, a Columbus, Ohio scientific research group, that found that 67 percent of renovation workers had received no instructional materials in dealing with lead hazards.
"Without a sliver of evidence that a volunteer approach would work, the EPA has balked at the last step needed to protect children and renovation workers in urban areas," Ruch says. He calls the EPA move not just dangerous but illegal, since the 1992 Toxic Substance Control Act had called for renovator training by October 1996. Not only is the EPA more than eight years behind schedule, says Ruch, but the law requires a written explanation for such delays.
Enesta Jones, EPA spokesperson, denies any violation of the 1992 act. She says the agency's new policy on lead is not illegal and that it will not increase the dangers of lead poisoning. She describes the voluntary program as "an aggressive education and outreach campaign" targeting both renovation companies and consumers. Free-market forces -- consumer pressure -- will work in the program's favor, she explains.
Ruch finds the notion that consumer education and free-market forces will lead to less lead poisoning "really stupid."
"The notion that they have a concern about public health," he concludes, "is belied by their actions."