Lead & Environmental Hazards Association

The Lead and Environmental Hazards Association (LEHA) is a national, non-profit organization committed to advancing our nation’s efforts to eliminate lead paint poisoning and other public health and environmental hazards faced by both children and adults, especially in homes, schools and other buildings where hazards are most severe. We improve opportunities for advancing lead inspection, risk assessment, abatement and many other initiatives by conducting educational programs, research, policy evaluation, outreach to decisionmakers and business activities.

LEHA’s purpose is to:

  • Provide forums for the exchange of state-of-the-art information on lead-based paint detection, hazard control and abatement methods through conferences, meetings and publications;
  • Initiate activities for the training, accreditation and recognition of lead-based paint industry practitioners, including community and parent groups, local health and housing departments, government and many others;
  • Promote legislative, regulatory, philanthropic, and private efforts to enhance professional lead-based paint detection, abatement and worker health and safety practices;
  • Develop a multi-year, long-range plan to inform rational, comprehensive approaches to solving the complex lead-based paint problem and other healthy housing, public health and environmental issues.

Since its inception in 1991, LEHA has grown into an organization of hundreds of individuals, organizations and companies that represent a cross-section of the lead-based paint and healthy housing field, including contractors, consultants, testing companies, training organizations, laboratories, community groups, housing and health and environmental officials, facility managers, and lead hazard control program administrators.

Join us! Your membership support and involvement strengthens our voice and provides many benefits to enhance your work. Your dues are tax-deductible and may be an allowable grantee training expense.

EPA’s Proposed Lead Dust Hazard Standard Poses Serious Implementation Challenges

Today, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed a Dust-Lead Hazard Standard of “any reportable level as analyzed by a laboratory recognized by EPA’s National Lead Laboratory Accreditation Program.” This  is effectively the same as “zero.” Currently, the lead dust clearance standard is 10 micrograms per square foot (ug/ft2), reduced from 40 ug/ft2 in 2020.3

The Lead and Environmental Hazards Association (LEHA) has serious reservations about unintended consequences of this proposal. Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with parents, our members serve on the “front lines” of the nation’s battle against lead poisoning by assessing and remediating dust-lead hazards in homes, apartments, childcare centers, and schools. A fundamental component of our work is effectively planning and communicating risk-response action strategies to families, property managers, healthcare professionals, and regulators. As professionals, we are concerned that zero is unworkable and could be counterproductive.  

Our concerns are based on the failure of the 1996 EPA and Housing and Urban Development (HUD) rules[1] that require landlords and homeowners to disclose lead-based paint hazards to people buying or renting homes built before 1978 (when lead-based paint was banned). Rather than promoting inspections and risk assessments, this well-intentioned rule had the practical effect of discouraging action.

Today, most homeowners and landlords have powerful incentives to not look for hazards and simply mark that they have “no knowledge of the presence of lead-based paint and/or lead-based paint hazards.” Consequently, buyers and renters are left in the dark, unwilling to inquire further and complicate a sale or lease of a home they want.

As a practical matter, lead-dust testing and remediation are only being done in five circumstances:

  • Health departments are investigating homes for lead hazards in response to a child with an elevated blood level;
  • Federally subsidized housing – but not those with Housing Choice Vouchers – requires action pursuant to HUD’s Lead Safe Housing Rule;[2]
  • Communities receive HUD Lead Hazard Control Grants;
  • In an enforcement action, someone who violated the EPA or HUD rules may agree to take action to reduce a civil penalty; and
  • Some state and local jurisdictions demand it.

In each of these situations, our members foresee a communications nightmare. “Imagine explaining to parents that dust-lead hazards are present, but those hazards do not warrant cleaning, because the dust wipe analysis results show that the dust-lead contamination is below a ’clearance level,’” said LEHA board member Lee Wasserman. “This may also result in greater disruption to families as the remediation options are evaluated and implemented. As a practical matter, the clearance level must be equal to or less than the dust-lead hazard standard.”

LEHA co-president Kate Kirkwood agrees. “Of course, we all believe that zero is ideal, but it is not currently attainable, or measurable with today’s technology,” she states. “Further, how do we justify to a contractor, property owner or a parent that the level of lead dust that we consider a hazard for the family, is different than the level we clean to? Or that we can effectively measure in the lab? If we are to work together to solve the problem of childhood lead poisoning our messaging must be clear and consistent and our solutions attainable with a reasonable effort. LEHA can work with EPA to meet this goal.”

Should the EPA establish a lead-dust hazard standard of effectively zero, public perception may very well mirror that of drinking water, where the lead action level is 15 parts per billion (ppb) and the maximum contaminant level goal is zero. Most consumers treat the 15 ppb as safe even though it is not a health standard.  

Beyond communications, a clearance level that is less protective than the dust hazard standard raises serious problems with insurance for our members. While all individuals who perform lead-dust wipe sampling receive thorough training and are licensed, the current sampling method for lead-dust hazards testing is simply too subjective when dealing with low levels of lead dust. Subtle, relatively benign modifications in technique, such as the exact square foot of floor chosen to wipe in a room, or the amount of pressure applied during the wipe process, can cause drastically different test results and are not reproducible.

While we agree with EPA that there is no safe level of exposure to lead and share the goal of reducing children’s exposure,  EPA’s proposal runs the risk of backfiring if the implications are not carefully considered and addressed. We had envisioned a more robust opportunity to collaborate with EPA as the agency crafted its proposal. The collaboration would have enabled us to explore potential issues and introduce realistic solutions. Now that the proposal is published, we will do our best to make sure the agency understands the implementation challenges.

Respectfully Submitted on behalf of LEHA

Kate Kirkwood, co-president, 603-781-4304, kate@kkirkwood.com