EAST CHICAGO — Any repeal or weakening of EPA's lead poisoning prevention regulations would be disastrous for heavily polluted, poverty-stricken communities with older housing stocks — including East Chicago — that rely on the federal agency to protect residents, several organizations warned in a joint statement Friday.
The EPA is accepting public comment until Monday on the federal agency's plans to identify regulations to potentially repeal, replace or modify, pursuant to an executive order issued earlier this year by President Donald Trump.
As of Friday, 53,258 comments had been received. Public comments can be filed at this link: https://goo.gl/DV1v9y
Under Executive Order 13777, Trump directed the EPA and other agencies to identify regulations that are potentially unnecessary, too costly and inhibit job growth. In proposing the elimination of EPA programs that protect against lead-based paint hazards, Trump has further argued oversight should be handed off to the states.
Trump has said he wants to curb President Barack Obama-era environmental regulations on industry and slash the EPA’s budget by nearly one-third, with some cuts to lead hazard elimination programs.
The groups' letter was submitted Friday as part of the EPA public comment process and penned, in part, by groups advocating on behalf of residents living in the city's USS Lead Superfund site that include the Chicago-based Sargent Shriver National Advocacy Center, University of Chicago School of Law Environmental Clinic, Loyola University Health Justice Project, and the Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law Environmental Advocacy Center.
About 70 percent of the country's Superfund sites — hazardous lands targeted by the ERA for cleanup — are within a mile of public or federally subsidized housing, the letter states. In East Chicago's case, the West Calumet Housing Complex, evacuated beginning last summer when EPA disclosed dangerously high levels of lead and arsenic in the soil, was built in the 1970s directly on top of the footprint of a former lead smelter.
"EPA’s regulations are designed to notify the public of lead-based paint hazards and evaluate and reduce these hazards in the nation’s housing stock in a safe manner that will not threaten the health and safety of occupants," the letter states. "The repeal or weakening of EPA’s lead hazard reduction standards will increase the threat of lead poisoning among children and create a false sense of safety among residents who assume EPA is fulfilling its duty to protect them."
The groups' letter also argued for stronger regulations, not weaker ones, under EPA's Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule — which requires EPA-licensed contractors to oversee significant housing projects that involve disturbances or repair of lead paint. They also argue for strengthening EPA's Lead Disclosure Rule, which requires disclosure of lead hazards in older homes for rent or purchase.
The majority of East Chicago's housing stock was built before 1978 and likely contain lead paint. It's estimated 23 million homes across the country contain lead paint — and one in three homes with children under age 6 have significant lead paint hazards, the letter states.
"Home renovation and lead-based paint activities are among the greatest source of lead contamination and lead hazard exposure to occupants. Lead in the environment does not dissipate, making it likely that a developing child will inhale or ingest it and become lead poisoned," the groups said.
Families in the USS Lead Superfund site have been exposed to cumulative health risks — with lead in the dirt, dust and, in some cases, paint or drinking water. While the city is in full compliance with the federal Lead and Copper Rule, the EPA late last year discovered high levels of lead in some Superfund homes' drinking water.
The lead in the soil and lead in the water are unrelated. Up to 90 percent of East Chicago’s water lines could be lead and EPA recommended residents should assume they have lead lines and use a certified water filter.
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt last month visited East Chicago’s Superfund site — his first visit to any Superfund site in the country. He vowed to protect people's health in East Chicago and restore confidence.