The EPA recently unveiled its “Strategy to Reduce Lead Exposures and Disparities in U.S. Communities” to advance its objectives to protect the public from lead, with a renewed focus upon high-risk communities.
The Agency announced the strategy during National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week in Omaha, Nebraska, which was once home to a large lead smelter and lead battery recycling plant that are estimated to have released over 400 million pounds (200,000 tons) of lead particles into the environment, with much of that ending up in residential areas.
“Very low levels of lead in children’s blood have been linked to adverse effects on intellect, concentration, and academic achievement,” states the EPA Fact Sheet for the Strategy. “The U.S. has made substantial progress in reducing lead exposure, but significant disparities remain along racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic lines. For example, Black children and those from low-income households have persistently been found to have higher blood lead levels than non-Hispanic white children and those from higher income households. EPA developed the Lead Strategy to focus on eliminating these disparities by taking targeted actions to prevent childhood exposures that could lead to lifelong health effects and barriers to social and economic well-being.”
The Strategy has four goals:
- Reduce community exposures to lead sources such as paint, soil, and drinking water.
- Identify communities with high lead exposures, and improve their health outcomes.
- Communicate more effectively with stakeholders.
- Support and conduct critical research to inform efforts to reduce lead exposures and related health risks.
The Lead Strategy defines challenges to achieving each of these goals and identifies actions the Agency will take to address them. Despite great progress over the past few decades to reduce lead exposure, the EPA says it still has more work to do, especially in communities already burdened by pollution and other stressors.
To achieve these goals, the Agency will utilize three approaches:
- APPROACH 1: Reduce lead exposures locally, with a focus on communities with disparities, and promote environmental justice.
“EPA will work with our partners to identify communities where lead exposure and blood lead levels persist and are known or reasonably suspected to be highest, and then will determine the dominant sources and cumulative exposure pathways,” the Strategy states. “EPA will subsequently use this knowledge and evidence-based best practices to focus the Agency’s actions, using all its tools to reduce health risk. EPA will also ensure that regulations are developed and implemented so that they protect communities from local exposures to lead.”
- APPROACH 2: Reduce lead exposures nationally through protective standards, analytical tools, and outreach.
“EPA will work to prevent and reduce lead exposures by developing and implementing national standards, policy, and guidance; updating regulations; enforcing regulations and statutory requirements; using analytical tools, conducting research, and applying evidence to improve the scientific foundations for methods to reduce and mitigate lead exposure; and soliciting stakeholder input to inform Agency decisions.”
- APPROACH 3: Reduce lead exposures with a “whole of EPA” and “whole of government” approach.
“EPA will create and target opportunities to collaborate across EPA programs and with federal partners and other governmental stakeholders, including states, tribes, cities, and counties, as well as non-governmental organizations and industry stakeholders, to focus the full range of resources to reduce lead exposures from all sources in the most vulnerable communities across the country. The Agency will use evidence-based strategies for communication and outreach designed to reduce these exposures.”
The Strategy also includes measures for tracking the Agency’s progress in meeting the goals of the strategy, as well as milestones for regulatory actions and updates to guidance and communication products.