Tuesday, February 20, 2018

EPA Ordered to Update Lead Paint Rules

        In 2009, a coalition of 12 non-profit environmental groups, including the Sierra Club and the National Center for Healthy Housing, petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency to update the Nation’s lead paint laws.The groups requested that the amount of lead in dust be changed from 40 to 10 µg/ft2 for floors and from 250 to 100 µg/ft2 for interior window sills. The groups also requested that a change in the definition of lead-based paint occur. In 2009, the maximum level of lead allowed in paint was 5,000 ppm. The proposed rule change would bring that number down to 600 ppm, causing an 88% decrease of lead in paint.The EPA granted the request, and said that it would work with the Department of Housing and Urban Development to update the laws.
        Fast forward 8 years and the EPA still hadn’t done anything. HUD was petitioned by another collation to update it’s rules, and went ahead in the process. Strangely though, the EPA did not. August of 2016, the coalition filed a lawsuit against the EPA, but the decision wasn’t handed down until December of 2017. In its decision, the 9th Circuit Court found the EPA had unreasonably delayed updating the lead paint rules. The court issued a writ of mandamus, which forces the EPA update it’s rule on the amount of lead in dust and definition of lead-based paint in 90 days. Those changes are to be implemented within 1 year of creation.
        This a big step in the fight against childhood lead poisoning. By changing these rules, children all of the country will ultimately be exposed to less lead. The stricter standards will lower the threshold needed for abatement in many areas. These laws have not been updated since 2001, and need to be, if we are to properly protect children. The EPA knows this, as shown by accepting the petition and guidance from it’s Science Advisory Board, but failed to act. If it had not been for the percistance of non-profit coalition, these rules would have been untouched.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Detroit Ghost Factories

Lead is in dirt, just like it is in air and water. Lead naturally occurs in soil, but can also be left over from prior land use. Demolished buildings, incinerators, and gas stations can all leave behind high levels of lead in soil. Often forgotten, and possibly worse are “Ghost Factories”. “Ghost Factories” is a term USA Today gave to demolished or abandoned lead smelting factories that were active up until the 1960s.These factories were used to  separate lead from other metals to be sold as raw materials for manufacturing.In 2003, the newspaper took a look at “Ghost Factories” all across the country. Using old records, such as insurance and fire maps, and community knowledge, they found over 400 sites that the EPA and state environmental agencies had no idea about. These factories are not active now, but their effect can still be found.
In Detroit alone, there are 16 total sites. Many of the factories are long gone, as the Detroit Free Press found in 2003, and have been redeveloped or sit as empty lots. Some are now owned by companies like Pepsi or American Axle and Manufacturing. Others are owned by the City of Detroit. Even Ford Field even sits on top of a former factory. Most importantly, these factories have polluted the soil of surrounding residential areas, which show dangerously high levels of lead. This poses threats for gardening, and for children playing outside.
“Ghost Factories” raises problems. First, much of the cost of cleaning up these sites falls on the back of the taxpayers. Many of the companies that operated these factories simply don’t exist anymore, and can’t be held accountable. Second, the EPA and DEQ don’t have the money to clean up these sites. The MDEQ has only started clean up on one of these sites in the 14 years it has known about them. Last, “Ghost Factories” raise questions about the monitoring quality and capacity of agencies. It was the work of newspapers and the community that brought these sites to the attention of the public, not agencies.

You can learn more about Ghost Factories here:https://www.usatoday.com/section/ghost-factories/

Monday, November 6, 2017

Lead in Cosmetics

We all know that lead is a problem and in many objects we interact with in our daily lives. Cosmetics provide a new set of products to watch out for. In December 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a draft guidance for the cosmetic industry, which was handed down after testing found lead to be present in various external cosmetic products. After 8 years of testing and research, lead was identified in lipsticks, lip glosses, lip liners, eye shadows, blushes, shampoos, and lotions. As a result, the FDA has decided to recommend the limit of lead on cosmetics be set at 10 parts per million (ppm). The products tested were well below that limit according to the FDA. These recommendations are not legally binding, and are just suggestions for the industry.
While none of these products were over the new limit recommended at 10 ppm, there are still health consequences of using these products. Lead can still be absorbed through the skin or accidentally ingested when using these products. This may not be a large problem for adults, who are less susceptible to the effects of lead, but these products can still harm children. Children are more susceptible to lead, so extra care should be taken with cosmetic products.
What can parents do since the FDA has only created guidances? There are a few steps that you can take to protect your household. Ensuring that cosmetics are out of reach of babies and toddlers who are likely to try to eat them is a good start. Lead free cosmetic items are also available, which helps to keep dress-up play or Halloween safe for kids. Also knowing what is in common household products can help keep you and your children healthy. Lead is never included on labels for any products, but are present in these products. Doing a little research of different brands before buying can go a long way in protecting your family. Brands such as L’Oreal, Maybelline, and Cover Girl have tested the highest for lead levels. Knowing what brands test high or don’t even allow lead in cosmetics can help you protect your household.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Does Your Baby's Food Contain Lead?

Many of you may start your day by going to the grocery store.  If you have an infant you’re shopping for you may head to the baby food section where you place fruit juice, Gerber Lil’ Entrees and applesauce pouches in the cart for your youngsters. You check the back label for the nutrition facts to ensure none of what you’re buying is too high in sugar or sodium. However, there is one ingredient not found on the label. Here’s a hint: its symbol on the periodic table is Pb and it used to be found in wooden pencils you used as a kid.  You guessed it, lead.

As you probably know, babies and young children are especially at risk for experiencing the effects from exposure. There is no safe level of lead exposure and kids, partly due to their teething behaviors and their having a much higher absorption rate for lead than adults. A recent study by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) found out of 57 types of food designated by the FDA as baby food in the study, lead was in one or more of the 52 samples. Some of the most contaminated foods included the following: Fruit juice, root vegetables, and teething biscuits. 

It should be noted that lead exposure cannot be 100% eliminated because of lead is naturally occurring and would be impossible to pinpoint its exact source for every bit of produced food, and none of the aforementioned samples contained levels above FDA recommendations. However, here is a list of some of the important places to keep a look out for:

Soil: You see lots of it on a daily basis. From your backyard to your home garden, soil is everywhere. If you choose to grow your own foods, it is important to keep in mind that highly industrial areas are at a higher risk due to auto emissions. Vegetables do not readily absorb lead, which means the risk of lead poisoning from this source is low and children are more likely to become poisoned by consuming the soil directly. However, root vegetables—carrots and lettuce—as noted above are known to contain higher lead concentrations if the soil exceeds 300 ppm. Concerned your soil might be contaminated? Check here.

Food Containers: According to Consumer Reports, pesticides and chemicals are concentrated in processed baby foods. Contact the companies behind your favorite brands to learn about their processing and how much lead they allow in their products (click here and here). Additionally, you should be careful of the types of containers you store your food in. Older china dishes and some imported food containers may contain traces of lead, though the risk of exposure is very low. Learn about FDA regulations for imported foods here as well as here.

Water: As you are aware, lead from pipes can leak into your water source. If you are giving your child formula, keep in mind contaminated tap water can put your child at risk because of the high amounts of water they are consuming. Private wells older than 20 years old can also be a source of lead.  Lead service lines to your home and your own faucets and fixture are the primary sources of lead that may be in your water.  The EPA provides tips to ensure the water that makes it into your home is safe for you and your little one(s) to consume. If you are breastfeeding, follow these recommendations for water consumption to reduce the risk of lead transfer to your child(ren).

Keeping your child(ren) safe is the number one priority for parents and caregivers. If you are concerned about lead levels in your home or the food you are buying, don’t hesitate to reach out to companies and/or your local health department for more information.                                                                                            

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Many Children Left Untested For Lead

Since the Flint water crisis made its way into national headlines, lead screening and testing has become of high concern, especially testing among young children who, as you know, are especially vulnerable to the effects of lead exposure. You’ve heard about the symptoms—hyperactivity, decreased IQ, insomnia, fatigue—the list goes on.

Yet, despite this increased concern, a study conducted by the Public Health Institute of California Assessing Child Lead Poisoning Case Ascertainment in the United States between 1999 and 2010 found that in some places nearly 80% of poisoned children were unidentified. Nationally, 607,000/944,000 (64%) cases were reported to the CDC. This means the other 36% of children went undetected, with many of the reported coming from areas in the Midwest and Northeast. Not good with percentages? Here is a graphic to help. Also, according to another study conducted by Reuters, cities in some states like Wisconsin and Missouri had a poisoning rate higher than that of Flint’s.

What Accounts For The Number of Children Going Untested?
To help wrap our heads around this issue, here is a list, though not an extensive one, to help answer this questions (for more information, you can take a look here and here).

  • Low-income children covered by Medicaid are required to be tested, but research has shown compliance with such a requirement is low. As of April of this year according to the Michigan Medicaid Blood Lead Testing Report, statewide, 66% of children are tested at or on their 2nd birthday and 74% for 3 year olds. Take a look at the full report.

  • Outside of Medicaid, there are few—if any—state recommendations for blood lead testing made available to parents (Arkansas, Montana, North and South Dakota, and Wyoming). This creates confusion and leaves parents—like some of you—with many unanswered questions. How are you to know when, how, or where to get your child(ren) tested if such information is not accessible to you? 

  • States also use confusing terminology within their guidelines that makes it difficult for even medical professionals to know when testing a child is required. Put it simply, the wording is confusing. Some words gives the impression that testing should take place, while others use words like shall make it clear testing is mandatory.

  • Only 10 states plus the District of Columbia requires universal screening. With most of these states require testing for children between the ages of 1 and 2. Michigan is not one of them.

  • Some of those states with universal screening have differing requirements. Age at which testing takes place, areas where testing is required, and the number of times a child is tested are some of these differing requirements.

Should your child or grandchild be tested for lead?

A good place to start is by educating yourself and talking with your pediatrician. 

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Lead Exposure in Workplace

With the Flint lead water crisis, lead poisoning has become a trending topic of discussion. While children have a higher risk exposure from lead, according to the Adult Blood Lead Epidemiology and Surveillance (ABLES) program, ninety-four percent of adults with elevated blood lead levels (BLL) are exposed through the workplace.
Primary lead exposures are occupational and occur in lead related industries such as refining, lead smelting, and manufacturing. According to the United States Department of Labor, there are 14 lead producing plants, which accounts for ninety-nine percent of U.S. secondary production. Other areas of exposure include home renovations (a frequent source of exposure), car repairs, electronic soldering, molding of bullets, fishing sinkers, and glass or metal soldering. Workers are exposed to lead through inhaling lead dusts and lead oxide fumes, as well as through eating and drinking near lead contaminated areas.
            Ingestion of lead can cause irreversible health damage. BLL of more than 10 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood (>10 µg/dL) is considered high. The National Toxicology program concludes that there is sufficient evidence of adverse health effects with BLL of <10 µg/dL. Adverse health effects include a wide range of health issues, from neurological to renal. Health effects include increased blood pressure, increased risk of hypertension, and increased evidence of essential tremor. Individuals with BLL of <5 µg/dL showed decreased glomerular filtration rate, reduced fetal growth in women, and adverse changes in sperm parameters and increased time to pregnancy.
            Lead poisoning is preventable through many different ways, such as avoiding carrying lead home on clothes, cleaning exhaust ventilations, wearing personal protective equipment, and through improved lead safety practice. 

Written by: Sweeta Jura 

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Four overlooked issues for National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week

(This post originally appeared on Michigan Distilled.)

This is National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week, which aims to raise awareness to reduce childhood exposure to lead.

In the wake of the Flint water crisis, Michiganders may be more aware of the hazards of lead than ever before. Still, we’ve got a lot of work to do. In 2014, more than 5,000 children in Michigan had blood lead levels above 5 micrograms per deciliter. That’s the level at which the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends public health action to protect children, but the CDC says there is no safe level of exposure to lead. The true number of lead-afflicted children in Michigan is likely much higher, since only 20 percent of children under six years old were tested in 2014.

We’ve written quite a lot here about lead poisoning in Michigan and our work to make it a thing of the past. You can find useful background here, here and here.

Since we’ve covered the basics in previous posts, we thought we’d mark this prevention week by highlighting some lead-related issues that don’t get much attention:

Don’t get tricked by toxic treats.

With Halloween coming up next week, it’s good to be aware of a largely overlooked source of lead exposure: imported candy. The Food and Drug Administration says children and pregnant women should not eat candy imported from Mexico, which may be contaminated by lead in wrappers or through improper manufacturing practices. Candy from China, the Philippines and other countries may also contain trace amounts of lead. The federal government reports that, in California, 15 percent of childhood lead poisoning cases can be traced to tainted candy.

We don’t want to needlessly stoke fears. Halloween is fun, and you’ve got enough to worry about it. Just stick to candy produced in the U.S.

We need more cleanup contractors.

Michigan has a long way to go in cleaning up lead from homes built before 1978, when lead-based paint was outlawed. The Ecology Center recently reported that a $600 million investment to remove lead hazards from the state’s 100,000 most at-risk homes would reduce childhood lead poisoning by 70 percent and, by a conservative estimate, pay for itself in just over three years.

A major hurdle in lead abatement efforts, however, is our shortage of cleanup contractors. Michigan law requires anyone doing lead abatement work to be certified by the state Department of Health and Human Services. Because not enough contractors are certified, Michigan families face longer delays and prolonged risk of lead exposure for children.

To help speed things along, the state—for a limited time—is providing $650 stipends to contractors who sign up to get certified. In exchange, applicants must provide a co-pay of $50 and agree to bid annually on abatement jobs in Flint over the next five years. Funding is limited, so if you are interested in getting your company certified, the time is now! More information is available here or by calling 517-284-4810.

Lead poisoning is a problem for adults, too.

As this Holland Sentinel story notes, Michigan has inadequate protections for people who work around lead, such as in some manufacturing jobs. And those workers can also put their children at risk of lead poisoning by bringing it home on their clothing and shoes. In Michigan, more than a third of children whose parents have elevated blood lead levels likewise test positive.

As MEC’s Tina Reynolds said in the Sentinel story, “If we’re looking at eliminating lead in this state, we have to look at everyone…The tendency is to look at the smoking gun and be done, but there’s much more to this…If we don’t take a comprehensive approach and look at lead in adults, then we are ignoring them as well as their children.”

Hunters, you have non-toxic options.

It’s hard to beat autumn in the north woods. I went upland bird hunting in northern Michigan last weekend, I’m doing the same next weekend, and I’m getting prepared for the upcoming firearm deer season. And this year, for the first time, I’m hunting lead-free.

Lead bullets can fragment into hundreds of tiny pieces when they hit an animal. That means hunters may be unintentionally feeding their children meat that is tainted with fragments too small to notice, but large enough to be serious cause for concern. Again, there is no safe level of lead exposure. Moreover, shooting introduces lead into the environment, where eagles, coyotes and other animals can easily ingest deadly or highly toxic levels. Lead poisoning is responsible for more than half of California condor deaths, making lead ammunition—which they ingest while scavenging—the top killer of the endangered birds.

There’s a common misperception among hunters that lead ammunition is the only effective option, and that alternatives are far more expensive. Years ago, those may have been valid arguments. Today, that dog won’t hunt; research shows little difference in price or performance between premium lead ammunition and nontoxic alternatives.

If you hunt, check out this site run by wildlife biologists who seek to provide their fellow hunters with accurate information and helpful tips on making the switch to lead-free ammunition.