“There is no safe level of lead,” an Environmental Protection...

“There is no safe level of lead,” an Environmental Protection Agency official said in a statement accompanying the announcement of proposed new limitations. Credit: Rob Crandall / Alamy Stock Photo

Proposed stricter limits on dust from lead paint in older homes and child care facilities could lead to expanded efforts to eradicate the toxin.

The federal standards proposed earlier this month by the Environmental Protection Agency involve tiny quantities of lead dust — measured in millionths of a gram — found in some structures built before 1978, when the federal government banned lead-based paint. EPA officials said the new standards, if finalized, would reduce lead exposures of up to 477,000 children under age 6 per year.

Many consumers and contractors stopped using lead-based paint before the ban went into effect, and the paint is most commonly found in structures built before the 1940s. Long Island’s housing stock is younger than the state’s overall. But more than half of Long Island's 716,510 homes date to 1979 or before, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

“There is no safe level of lead,” Michal Freedhoff, the Environmental Protection Agency’s assistant administrator for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, said in a statement accompanying the announcement on July 12. The announcement highlighted the scientific consensus that any amount of the substance — inhaled or ingested — can have irreversible health effects, including neurological damage and developmental delays, especially for young children.

State law requires lead testing for children under age 6, and public health authorities can order cleanup in homes in high-risk areas. In 2020, the incidence of confirmed high-lead blood level — at least 5 millionths of a gram, or micrograms, per deciliter of blood — was 3.6 per 1,000 children tested in Nassau County and 2.7 in Suffolk, well under the 14.7 rate for the state overall, according to a state health data set. That rate was based on a cohort of young children, and the data set did not show the total elevated blood levels. A different data set, using blood tests for children under 18, counted at least 26 children with elevated blood levels in Nassau and six in Suffolk in 2020. 

In a statement, Erin Clary, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Health, said that if the new standards are passed, they would be "another tool [for] reducing children’s lead exposure in the home."

Nassau Health Commissioner Dr. Irina Gelman said in a statement that the proposal could spur more resources to be allocated toward the county's Childhood Lead Prevention Program and that the rules would "serve to improve public health protection of families in indoor settings.”

A Suffolk representative did not comment on the proposal. 

The change would not compel property owners or occupants to test their buildings, but test results would have to be disclosed to potential buyers. The EPA said the rule change likely would increase the number of buildings that undergo lead dust cleanup, a process known as abatement, and make those cleanups more rigorous.

Any detectable amount of lead dust would constitute a hazard, a finding that can in some cases trigger an abatement. After completion of that process, no more than three micrograms, or millionths of a gram, could remain on any square foot of a building’s floor, with slightly more permitted on windowsills and window troughs. The EPA’s current hazard standards are 10 micrograms per square foot for floors and 100 per square foot for window sills. The EPA’s current clearance levels are 10 per square foot for floors, 100 per square foot for window sills and 400 per square foot for window troughs.

The EPA will accept public comment on the proposal for the next two months. Agency officials will make revisions based on the comments and issue a final rule, which is expected to be published in fall 2024.

The EPA enforces the rules surrounding lead-based paint in most pre-1978 housing with civil administrative proceedings and judicial civil and criminal actions prosecuted by the U.S. Department of Justice. In one prominent case last year, a Buffalo property manager was sentenced to serve one year of probation and pay $15,000 for failure to comply with the lead disclosure rule.

While social services and environmental advocates generally support the proposal, one industry expert said it was extreme and would be hard to put into practice. 

Public housing authorities could face “substantial direct compliance costs” to fund lead hazard reduction and testing under federal safe housing rules, according to an EPA filing this month. There are more than 10,000 federally assisted housing units on Long Island. A spokeswoman for the Department of Housing and Urban Development said it was “too early in the rule-making process” to discuss how it would respond. 

John Hrvatin, executive director of the Freeport Housing Authority — one of Long Island’s largest public housing programs, with 250 units — said he anticipated federal funding would meet any new costs for housing authorities on Long Island. His authority’s units meet the existing standards, but he plans to retest them if the new standards are approved, he said.

Landlords for 311 privately owned units in the authority’s housing choice voucher program, commonly known as Section 8, could be on the hook for inspections and abatements. Those costs cannot be passed on to tenants in the form of higher rent, he said, because rents are set according to federal fair market indexes. To meet federal standards, Hrvatin said he requires an inspection before any new lease and would not place tenants with landlords who don't meet the requirements.

Operators of day care centers, preschools and kindergartens built before 1978 also could face costs. A representative for the state Education Department said officials there were "reviewing the EPA’s proposal." Some Long Island school buildings date to the 1950s, according to Education Department records.   

Landlords and contractors, including residential remodelers and abatement firms, could pay more for specialized cleaning, floor sealing and related work, according to the EPA. The cost of lab testing for lead dust levels also could increase because of increased demand and the need for more sensitive testing, the agency said. 

Long Island housing advocates favored the new rules but said they worried about increased costs, since the rent protections Hrvatin mentioned do not extend to much of the area's rental housing.

“The concern would be that the landlord or contractor passes these on to the tenant. … Any substantial increase is going to negatively impact them,” said Karen Boorshtein, president of Family Service League, a nonprofit that helps unhoused families gain permanent housing and supportive services. Gwen O’Shea, president of the Community Development Corp. of Long Island, which operates housing and affordable rental properties, mentioned another concern: "Not everyone is trained and certified" to do specialized lead testing and cleanup, creating a possible backlog.

Lee Wasserman, an abatement industry leader, warned that the proposal would create confusion and unreasonable expectations for consumers, though medical and environmental advocates called the stiffer standards a positive step toward public health. 

Wasserman, a board member of the Lead and Environmental Hazards Association, an inspectors and remediators trade group, and principal of LEW Environmental Services, a Mine Hill, New Jersey-based company with one of the biggest testing and abatement practices on Long Island, said he supported tightening hazard standards, but not to the level being proposed.

“We all love zero, but it’s just not practical,” he said, partly because lead has been present in the outside environment since the industrial revolution, meaning that detectable quantities could blow inside a building with the wind, or be carried in by a pet or visitor. While lead-based paint and dust are among the most common sources of exposure for young children, decades of lead use in industry, gasoline and other sources may contribute to elevated lead levels in soil and air, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The proposed standard could mean slower, more expensive real estate transactions if potential buyers demand tests, Wasserman said, along with legal jeopardy for property owners and school districts found with lead dust. Companies like his, which do testing and remediation, could do more business, but would face higher costs and possible litigation.   

“I don’t want business that drags me into lawsuits, and I don’t want business where I feel like I’m ripping someone off because the government is telling me to do something that is unreasonable,” Wasserman said.

Dr. Robert Schwaner, medical director of the department of emergency medicine and chief of the division of toxicology at Stony Brook University Hospital, said the new standards followed decades of downward revision of the threshold for childhood lead poisoning — from 60 micrograms per deciliter to 40 and below, levels that today would mean a hospital intake.

“It shows you how far we’ve come in realizing there’s danger even in low levels,” he said. “My hope is there’s enough support to not point fingers, but to do the right thing” and make home testing commonplace.

Eve Gartner, director of Crosscutting Toxics Strategies at Earthjustice, an advocacy organization that sued the EPA to force the introduction of the new standards, said the costs Wasserman mentioned were small “given the really serious harm that we know lead causes in children’s lives.” Families “should know whether there’s lead” in their homes.

Gartner said the new standards would encourage more testing and could help with passage of a handful of bills in the State Legislature that would mandate testing in all housing. In the past, those bills faced “roadblocks” from the real estate industry, she said.

Proposed stricter limits on dust from lead paint in older homes and child care facilities could lead to expanded efforts to eradicate the toxin.

The federal standards proposed earlier this month by the Environmental Protection Agency involve tiny quantities of lead dust — measured in millionths of a gram — found in some structures built before 1978, when the federal government banned lead-based paint. EPA officials said the new standards, if finalized, would reduce lead exposures of up to 477,000 children under age 6 per year.

Many consumers and contractors stopped using lead-based paint before the ban went into effect, and the paint is most commonly found in structures built before the 1940s. Long Island’s housing stock is younger than the state’s overall. But more than half of Long Island's 716,510 homes date to 1979 or before, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

“There is no safe level of lead,” Michal Freedhoff, the Environmental Protection Agency’s assistant administrator for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, said in a statement accompanying the announcement on July 12. The announcement highlighted the scientific consensus that any amount of the substance — inhaled or ingested — can have irreversible health effects, including neurological damage and developmental delays, especially for young children.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • The Environmental Protection Agency's proposed stricter limits on dust from lead paint in older homes and child care facilities could mean expanded efforts to eradicate the toxin on Long Island. 
  • Any detectable amount of lead dust would constitute a hazard. After abatement, no more than three micrograms, or millionths of a gram, could remain on any square foot of a building’s floor, with slightly more permitted on windowsills and window troughs.
  • While social services and environmental advocates generally supported the proposal, one industry expert said it was extreme and would be hard to put into practice. 

State law requires lead testing for children under age 6, and public health authorities can order cleanup in homes in high-risk areas. In 2020, the incidence of confirmed high-lead blood level — at least 5 millionths of a gram, or micrograms, per deciliter of blood — was 3.6 per 1,000 children tested in Nassau County and 2.7 in Suffolk, well under the 14.7 rate for the state overall, according to a state health data set. That rate was based on a cohort of young children, and the data set did not show the total elevated blood levels. A different data set, using blood tests for children under 18, counted at least 26 children with elevated blood levels in Nassau and six in Suffolk in 2020. 

In a statement, Erin Clary, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Health, said that if the new standards are passed, they would be "another tool [for] reducing children’s lead exposure in the home."

Nassau Health Commissioner Dr. Irina Gelman said in a statement that the proposal could spur more resources to be allocated toward the county's Childhood Lead Prevention Program and that the rules would "serve to improve public health protection of families in indoor settings.”

A Suffolk representative did not comment on the proposal. 

Test results would have to be disclosed

The change would not compel property owners or occupants to test their buildings, but test results would have to be disclosed to potential buyers. The EPA said the rule change likely would increase the number of buildings that undergo lead dust cleanup, a process known as abatement, and make those cleanups more rigorous.

Any detectable amount of lead dust would constitute a hazard, a finding that can in some cases trigger an abatement. After completion of that process, no more than three micrograms, or millionths of a gram, could remain on any square foot of a building’s floor, with slightly more permitted on windowsills and window troughs. The EPA’s current hazard standards are 10 micrograms per square foot for floors and 100 per square foot for window sills. The EPA’s current clearance levels are 10 per square foot for floors, 100 per square foot for window sills and 400 per square foot for window troughs.

The EPA will accept public comment on the proposal for the next two months. Agency officials will make revisions based on the comments and issue a final rule, which is expected to be published in fall 2024.

The EPA enforces the rules surrounding lead-based paint in most pre-1978 housing with civil administrative proceedings and judicial civil and criminal actions prosecuted by the U.S. Department of Justice. In one prominent case last year, a Buffalo property manager was sentenced to serve one year of probation and pay $15,000 for failure to comply with the lead disclosure rule.

While social services and environmental advocates generally support the proposal, one industry expert said it was extreme and would be hard to put into practice. 

Public housing authorities could face “substantial direct compliance costs” to fund lead hazard reduction and testing under federal safe housing rules, according to an EPA filing this month. There are more than 10,000 federally assisted housing units on Long Island. A spokeswoman for the Department of Housing and Urban Development said it was “too early in the rule-making process” to discuss how it would respond. 

John Hrvatin, executive director of the Freeport Housing Authority — one of Long Island’s largest public housing programs, with 250 units — said he anticipated federal funding would meet any new costs for housing authorities on Long Island. His authority’s units meet the existing standards, but he plans to retest them if the new standards are approved, he said.

Landlords for 311 privately owned units in the authority’s housing choice voucher program, commonly known as Section 8, could be on the hook for inspections and abatements. Those costs cannot be passed on to tenants in the form of higher rent, he said, because rents are set according to federal fair market indexes. To meet federal standards, Hrvatin said he requires an inspection before any new lease and would not place tenants with landlords who don't meet the requirements.

Operators of day care centers, preschools and kindergartens built before 1978 also could face costs. A representative for the state Education Department said officials there were "reviewing the EPA’s proposal." Some Long Island school buildings date to the 1950s, according to Education Department records.   

Landlords and contractors, including residential remodelers and abatement firms, could pay more for specialized cleaning, floor sealing and related work, according to the EPA. The cost of lab testing for lead dust levels also could increase because of increased demand and the need for more sensitive testing, the agency said. 

Advocates worried about costs

Long Island housing advocates favored the new rules but said they worried about increased costs, since the rent protections Hrvatin mentioned do not extend to much of the area's rental housing.

“The concern would be that the landlord or contractor passes these on to the tenant. … Any substantial increase is going to negatively impact them,” said Karen Boorshtein, president of Family Service League, a nonprofit that helps unhoused families gain permanent housing and supportive services. Gwen O’Shea, president of the Community Development Corp. of Long Island, which operates housing and affordable rental properties, mentioned another concern: "Not everyone is trained and certified" to do specialized lead testing and cleanup, creating a possible backlog.

Lee Wasserman, an abatement industry leader, warned that the proposal would create confusion and unreasonable expectations for consumers, though medical and environmental advocates called the stiffer standards a positive step toward public health. 

Wasserman, a board member of the Lead and Environmental Hazards Association, an inspectors and remediators trade group, and principal of LEW Environmental Services, a Mine Hill, New Jersey-based company with one of the biggest testing and abatement practices on Long Island, said he supported tightening hazard standards, but not to the level being proposed.

“We all love zero, but it’s just not practical,” he said, partly because lead has been present in the outside environment since the industrial revolution, meaning that detectable quantities could blow inside a building with the wind, or be carried in by a pet or visitor. While lead-based paint and dust are among the most common sources of exposure for young children, decades of lead use in industry, gasoline and other sources may contribute to elevated lead levels in soil and air, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The proposed standard could mean slower, more expensive real estate transactions if potential buyers demand tests, Wasserman said, along with legal jeopardy for property owners and school districts found with lead dust. Companies like his, which do testing and remediation, could do more business, but would face higher costs and possible litigation.   

“I don’t want business that drags me into lawsuits, and I don’t want business where I feel like I’m ripping someone off because the government is telling me to do something that is unreasonable,” Wasserman said.

Dr. Robert Schwaner, medical director of the department of emergency medicine and chief of the division of toxicology at Stony Brook University Hospital, said the new standards followed decades of downward revision of the threshold for childhood lead poisoning — from 60 micrograms per deciliter to 40 and below, levels that today would mean a hospital intake.

“It shows you how far we’ve come in realizing there’s danger even in low levels,” he said. “My hope is there’s enough support to not point fingers, but to do the right thing” and make home testing commonplace.

Eve Gartner, director of Crosscutting Toxics Strategies at Earthjustice, an advocacy organization that sued the EPA to force the introduction of the new standards, said the costs Wasserman mentioned were small “given the really serious harm that we know lead causes in children’s lives.” Families “should know whether there’s lead” in their homes.

Gartner said the new standards would encourage more testing and could help with passage of a handful of bills in the State Legislature that would mandate testing in all housing. In the past, those bills faced “roadblocks” from the real estate industry, she said.

East Hampton discrimination … Hempstead housing development … Holocaust survivor learns to dance  Credit: Newsday

Sands Beach Club fire ... LI sharks this summer ... Rangers Game 4 ... Cheap Florida trips

East Hampton discrimination … Hempstead housing development … Holocaust survivor learns to dance  Credit: Newsday

Sands Beach Club fire ... LI sharks this summer ... Rangers Game 4 ... Cheap Florida trips

Latest Videos

SUBSCRIBE

Unlimited Digital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months

ACT NOWSALE ENDS SOON | CANCEL ANYTIME