The Obama administration led a push to force companies to test their dust for lead, but the Trump administration rolled back that rule in July, saying it was an overreach that encouraged dangerous practices.
As the new administration rolls back enforcement of existing rules, the Environmental Protection Agency plans to step in and reverse course, writing a new order promoting higher lead testing, Politico reports, citing documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. The EPA did not respond to a request for comment.
The order, drawn up by EPA employees, would change the way lead test results are reported to the National Toxicology Program at the National Institutes of Health, which helps recommend toxicity levels for chemicals. Lead levels in people are not currently the focus of the scientific research paid for by the government, leading regulators to focus only on levels in plants and water.
The order may be written to combat the headwinds Republicans have pushed against environmental regulations in recent years, including into the running.
Under President Obama, the Environmental Protection Agency implemented rules requiring companies that manufacture lead-based paint and other materials to test samples for lead, which already naturally occurs in the air. Lead has been linked to permanent brain damage and other debilitating health effects, with increases in infant mortality and damage to children’s intelligence.
Yet Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions have urged the EPA not to enforce a 2014 federal rule requiring companies to test for lead dust, which is commonly used in the process of dismantling lead-based paint. “Given the limited evidence regarding the health effects associated with these regulations, EPA did not feel that the time or resources required to promulgate such an action were warranted,” the EPA wrote in its memo announcing the reversal of the rule, according to Politico.
After four toxicology experts who worked under Obama wrote a letter to the EPA asking the agency to enforce the rule, citing the findings in the letter, and saying that “it is unethical” to put off testing for the effects of lead dust without factoring in potential hazards, the EPA listened and immediately took action. The agency said in a statement in July that it is considering ways to speed up the testing of more lead compounds “to reduce health risks posed by lingering lead contamination.”
“Currently EPA relies on voluntary industry reporting systems for lead, some of which are subject to lengthy delays,” the agency said in a statement.
But the order planned by EPA employees argues that the regulation is unnecessary.
“Given that the EPA already allows for such reporting today, the consistency and stability of such reporting coupled with industry’s ability to promote their own goals regarding reporting will provide greater predictability, safety and consistency with U.S. chemical regulations,” the order reads.
The Trump administration has also rolled back enforcement of the ozone and toxic chemical safety standards, which officials have said lack scientific support. Under the ozone standard, smog contains a group of dangerous chemicals known as PM2.5, also referred to as the “ozone 2.5,” which comes from the production of automobile exhaust. Environmentalists point out that smog can travel hundreds of miles, exposing people living outside the smog-free urban area to dangerous levels of pollutants.