SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- A federal appeals court in San Francisco Wednesday ordered the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to revise its standards on lead paint hazards to protect children within one year and three months.
A panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the EPA's multi-year delay in setting new rules on when lead paint and lead dust in older houses are dangerous poses "a clear threat to human welfare."
Circuit Judge Mary Schroeder wrote, "The children exposed to lead poisoning due to the failure of EPA to act are severely prejudiced by the EPA's delay."
The three-judge panel by a 2-1 vote ordered the EPA to begin a rule-making process within three months and to come up with a final rule one year later. The panel acted in a lawsuit filed directly in the appeals court last year by the Sierra Club and seven other groups.
The Sierra Club and three of the organizations filed a petition with EPA in 2009 asking for new rules in light of scientific research concluding that lead is dangerous to children at lower levels of exposure than previously thought.
The EPA agreed in 2009 to start a rule-making process. Since then, it has received advice from a scientific panel but has not begun making new rules, the groups claim. The agency told the court it has been working diligently and expects to have new rules by 2023.
The court majority agreed with the plaintiffs that the delay was unreasonable.
It said the EPA was obligated take final action by the federal Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 and the Residential Lead-Based Paint Hazard Reduction Act of 1992.
Lead-based paint was banned in the United States in 1978, but it remains in many older houses. Children can be exposed when the paint flakes off or crumbles into dust. Lead can cause brain damage, learning disabilities, lowered IQ scores and slowed growth in children.
The case concerns standards set by the EPA for the amount of lead that defines lead-based paint and the allowable amount of lead found in dust on the floors and windowsills of houses with lead-based paint.
The EPA's current rules were set in 2001 and were based on an assumption that lead in children's blood was dangerous above the level of 10 micrograms per deciliter.
Since then, scientists have lowered the hazard threshold. The Centers for Disease Control said in 2012 that no safe blood level in children has been identified but said that half the amount designated by the EPA
should trigger a public health response.
The EPA lead paint and dust standards are used in an EPA regulation that requires owners of pre-1978 housing to inform buyers and renters of any known lead paint hazards and to give them a chance to conduct their own inspections. The standards are also used in other EPA regulations on safe renovation of older houses.
The decision can be appealed to an expanded panel of the appeals court or to the U.S. Supreme Court. The EPA said it is reviewing the decision.
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