In this June, 2017 photo, Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt speaks in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington.
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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has known for years that federal standards for lead exposure in children were outdated. And yet the agency has done nothing for 17 years to study and revise its guidelines for what levels of lead are acceptable in children.
This week a federal appeals court rejected the administration’s request and ordered the agency to form new rules within 90 days. The Trump Administration had asked for a six-year delay for the updated standards after the Obama administration delayed them for six years previously.
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco issued a blistering rebuke of the EPA’s foot dragging. The EPA has acknowledged that lead poisoning is the top environmental health threat for children younger than 6 in the United States, judges said.
The court went on to mention that untold numbers of children were likely exposed to lead poisoning while the EPA delayed this important work.
Lead exposure can cause damage to a child’s brain and nervous system, slow growth and development, create learning and behavior problems, and hearing and speech problems. Its effects can be irreversible.
Almost 40 years after the federal government outlawed lead paint, an unknown number of children are still in jeopardy. This is partly because cities such as Toledo continue to live with a legacy of older housing stock still coated with lead paint that falls away in chips and dust form. In other areas lead finds its way into children’s blood streams via outdated lead water pipes.
The appeals court noted that new research on the hazards of lead paint suggested federal authorities review standards. And yet the federal EPA — to which state and local authorities ought to be able to turn for guidance on policy and safe exposure levels — still wanted six years to consider its ruling on best practices.
EPA officials have said they will review the ruling before deciding whether to appeal. They should not waste their time. Instead, the agency should get to work reviewing the latest science and offering revised standards that will help protect America’s children.
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