Federal agencies increase efforts to tackle lead hazards

March 6, 2024

The three federal agencies responsible for regulating housing, the environment and health have signed two Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) to combat lead poisoning in housing and better inform communities about potential toxin exposure.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently signed the agreements to support commitments in each agency’s strategic plan. The commitments include reducing lead exposure in underserved communities and promoting environmental justice to protect those localities from hazardous waste.

Lead paint is present in 34 million homes nationwide. Approximately 3.3 million homes – including 2 million low-income households – have children younger than 6 who face at least one lead-based paint hazard.

“Today’s agreement demonstrates that EPA and HUD will enforce the law fairly and aggressively to protect children, particularly those living in overburdened and underserved communities, from exposure to lead-based paint in their homes,” said David M. Uhlmann, assistant administrator for the EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance.

The MOUs will support commitments made through the 15-step Lead and Paint Action Plan to deliver clean drinking water and protect family health. The plan calls for increasing collaboration between local, state and federal partners and allocating $3 billion to states, Tribes, and territories to replace lead service lines.

The first MOU between the EPA and HUD expands, updates and reaffirms a 1997 agreement to coordinate enforcement efforts tackling lead-based paint hazards in housing. The agreement will improve communication between the two agencies and create a framework for consultation, information-sharing and enforcement effort coordination.

While the memorandum does not require the agencies to carry out all enforcement, it offers an outline of how both agencies expect to work together in various stages of enforcement, according to the MOU.

Lead-based paint hazards in rundown housing are the most common causes of elevated lead levels in children. An estimated 500,000 children in the United States have blood lead levels values above 3.5 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a division of HHS. The CDC recommends case management to address lead exposure health effects starting at that level.

The EPA, HUD and the CDC signed the second MOU enhance interagency collaboration, clarify information sharing and boost regular communication. The agencies will launch a pilot program across a five-state region. The program will establish a regional interagency workgroup to improve lead outreach and create a combined government approach toward reducing lead exposure.

The effort will span the EPA’s Region 3, including Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia. It will be a first step toward developing a national framework for cooperation, federal officials said.

“HUD is pleased to collaborate with its EPA and CDC partners on this pilot that we hope will provide the basis for an enhanced national framework for sharing and using information on the sources of lead exposures at the community and even neighborhood levels,” HUD Office of Lead Hazard Control and Healthy Homes Director Matthew Ammon said in a statement. “HUD has a particular interest in using the shared data to facilitate its engagement with state and local lead hazard control programs, healthy homes programs, and housing rehabilitation programs, for the purposes of improving its targeting of funding, conducting special projects, or other collaborations.”

The CDC will share blood lead surveillance data as part of the agreement. The EPA’s Region 3 will create an annual Regional Lead Action Plan supporting the EPA Strategy to Reduce Lead Exposures and Disparities in U.S. Communities. The strategy seeks to identify communities with high lead exposures, communicate more effectively with the public and reduce community exposure to lead.

In addition, the EPA will share information identifying geographic areas –especially children and underserved communities— where exposure risk is the greatest. HUD will also share data from assisted housing.

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Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Paul Stinson

Paul Stinson has more than 15 years of journalism experience, including a decade covering the legislative and regulatory affairs of Texas, South Africa, and Germany for an affiliate of Bloomberg, L.P. His experience includes covering voting rights and the sectors of environment, energy, labor, healthcare, and taxes. Stinson joined the team in October as a reporter for SPI’s news publications, which include Government Contracting Pipeline, Texas Government Insider, and the newly-launched Government Market News. He is also a Fulbright Scholar to Germany, and an Arthur F. Burns Fellow. He holds a master’s in journalism from Indiana University.   

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