The Environmental Protection Agency plans to tighten restrictions on lead dust in homes. But it wouldn’t affect those by Superfund sites like USS Lead in East Chicago. Advocates say the EPA needs to do more to protect the people most vulnerable to lead dust exposure.
If you live in a home built before 1978, it’s likely that there’s some lead dust in your house from lead-based paint. But people who live in areas with known lead contamination in the soil or air are at a greater risk.
Attorney Debbie Chizewer represents East Chicago residents dealing with lead through the Northwestern Law School’s Environmental Advocacy Clinic. She says in a place like the USS Lead site, lead dust can get kicked up into the air as soil is excavated for cleanup or get tracked in on the bottom of residents' shoes.
So far, the EPA has only tested lead dust in East Chicago homes where contaminated soil was found on the property, but Chizewer says all homes near the affected area need to be tested.
“You can clean the outside, but if you don’t clean the inside then residents remain exposed to a harmful neurotoxin,” she says.
The EPA is planning to make stricter standards for lead dust in homes — reducing acceptable levels from 40 micrograms per square foot (µg/ft2) to 10 µg/ft2 on floors and 250 to 100 µg/ft2 on window sills. It would be a change in the EPA's Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), which is meant to protect the general public and doesn't cover lead dust at Superfund sites.
Instead, Chizewer says , in the rare instaces where the EPA does test Superfunds for lead, they use site-specific standards. She says that can lead to more thorough cleanups at some sites than others — like how East Chicago can have a limit of 25 µg/ft2 of lead and homes in Pueblo, Colorado have a stricter limit of 10 µg/ft2.
Chizewer says the EPA should have the same limit for lead dust across all Superfund sites based on what’s protective for public health.
“There is no level of lead that is safe and that reinforces the need to have as much protection as possible across all programs,” she says.
Chizewer says as there's already a standard for lead dust through TSCA, she feels confident that the EPA could implement something similar and perhaps even more stringent than the new proposal.
On Aug. 16, Northwestern Pritzker School of Law Environmental Advocacy Clinic joined the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law and Health Justice Innovations, LLC in commenting on the EPA's proposed changes to lead dust limits. The EPA is unable to comment at this time.
Indiana Environmental reporting is supported by the Environmental Resilience Institute, an Indiana University Grand Challenge project developing Indiana-specific projections and informed responses to problems of environmental change.