What a proposed EPA rule on lead dust rules would mean for Wisconsin

If finalized, a rule proposed by the Biden administration for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency would require more thorough abatement and cleaning at lead-tainted homes and child care facilities.

Wisconsin Watch

September 27, 2023

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A gloved hand holding a rag wipes the interior of a storm window in a wood frame with chipped and peeling paint, with fragments sitting on the windowsill.

A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposal would lower the threshold of lead considered hazardous — and therefore requiring abatement — on floors and window sills. Here, a Milwaukee rental home is investigated for lead during a 2015 inspection. (Credit: Matt Campbell / Wisconsin Watch)

Wisconsin Watch

By Farrah Anderson, Wisconsin Watch

This article was first published by Wisconsin Watch.

Aiming to reduce childhood lead exposure, the federal Environmental Protection Agency is proposing a rule that would require property owners to clean up any reportable amount of lead dust detected on floors and window sills at pre-1978 homes and child care facilities.

The proposal, announced in July, would lower the threshold of lead considered hazardous — and therefore requiring abatement — on floors and window sills. It would also lower dust-lead clearance levels: how much lead may linger for abatement to be considered complete.

Landlords still would not be required to proactively test for lead under the proposal. In Wisconsin, local health departments typically require lead testing at properties only after a child is found to be lead poisoned. But the EPA rule, if finalized, could reduce the lead exposures of 250,000 to 500,000 U.S. children younger than six each year, the EPA estimates.

The current dust-lead hazard standard is 10 micrograms per square foot (mcg/ft2) on floors and 100 mcg/ft2 on window sills. The proposal would shrink that standard to any reportable lead level greater than zero.

Clearance levels under the new rule would drop from 10 to 3 mcg/ft2 for floors; from 100 to 20 mcg/ft2 for window sills; and from 400 to 25 mcg/ft2 for window troughs. The EPA considers those levels the lowest that can be “reliably and effectively achieved.”

The changes would ensure more thorough clean-ups at abated properties, said Michael Mannan, director of home environmental health for the Milwaukee Health Department.

“That just means they have to do a better job cleaning and making sure there’s even less dust there, which is a good thing,” Mannan said.

Lead is a neurotoxin that damages the brain and nervous system, especially in young children. Children can be poisoned by ingesting lead paint, lead-tainted water, soil, dust or other lead-based products.

No level of lead in blood is considered safe for children, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The EPA rule could hold large implications for property owners, said Heiner Giese, an attorney and lobbyist for the Rental Property Association of Wisconsin. It could crimp housing supply because landlords might be more wary of renting out old homes in Milwaukee for fear of pricier lead abatement, he said.

“I think it’s going to make property owners leery of owning any property in an older area where children live, because now you’re possibly going to get a lead order which is going to be expensive and potentially lead to liability,” Giese said.

The EPA is accepting public comments on the proposal until Oct. 2.

The nonprofit Wisconsin Watch collaborates with WPR, PBS Wisconsin, other news media and the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication. All works created, published, posted or disseminated by Wisconsin Watch do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of UW-Madison or any of its affiliates.

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