By Lauren Cross
As the EPA proposes strengthening its standards for lead dust hazards in the face of a federal court order, attorneys representing families exposed to lead poisoning in East Chicago say EPA’s practice of inconsistently addressing such hazards at Superfund sites across the country cannot continue until the new rule.
“If you’re going to go through the trouble to use what you deem as the best science, then you should make sure that everyone benefits,” said Debbie Chizewer, an attorney with Northwestern Pritzker School of Law Environmental Advocacy Clinic.
Under a judge’s order, the EPA in June proposed strengthening its dust-lead hazard standards from 40 to 10 micrograms per square foot on floors and from 250 to 100 sq/ft. on window sills. Since EPA’s rule was first finalized in 2001, the understanding lead exposure in children has advanced and mounting scientific research has found no safe level is acceptable.
However, the Environmental Protection Agency has historically failed to address interior lead dust hazards for homeowners living in hazardous Superfund sites, and in the few cases that they have, such as in East Chicago and Pueblo, Colorado, the federal agency has not applied the current standards universally.
That’s according to public comments submitted Aug. 16 by attorneys with Northwestern, Abrams Environmental Law Clinic at University of Chicago Law School, the Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, and Health Justice Innovations.
EPA has cleaned the interiors of 396 homes in the USS Lead Superfund site since 2016 as part of their “aggressive” cleanup timeline, the agency has said. EPA Region 5 staff has argued the agency is only cleaning home interiors found to have contaminated soil because of the unlikelihood families are tracking lead-contaminated dirt into their home.
Northwestern, University of Chicago, Shriver, and Health Justice, however, see it differently.
“If that’s true, they should do the work and figure it out. This community has suffered incredible accumulative exposure. Just do the testing,” Mark Templeton, director of the University of Chicago Law School’s Abrams Environmental Law Clinic, said Friday.
Rather than using existing federal standards as a guide, EPA also created its own site-specific dust standard and assessment protocol in East Chicago, Templeton, Chizewer and others argue.
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