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EPA Endorses Obama Proposal to Eliminate Lead From Schools, Child Care Facilities

Press Release

Location: Washington, DC

EPA Endorses Obama Proposal to Eliminate Lead From Schools, Child Care Facilities

U.S. Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) today praised the Environmental Protection Agency's announcement of support for his proposal to remove toxic lead from childcare, pre-school, and kindergarten facilities. Senator Obama originally introduced S. 3969, the Lead Poisoning Reduction Act of 2006, during the 109th Congress to require all child care facilities that are outside of the home to be certified lead-safe in five years.

"Lead poisoning continues to pose an enormous threat to our children's health and safety in day care facilities and schools in Illinois and across America," said Senator Obama. "The Environmental Protection Agency took an important step forward today by proposing that those who renovate and repair our schools follow safe lead practices. Requiring mandatory lead-safety training and certification of our schools' contractors are basic precautions we can take to keep our children healthy and our schools lead-free. The EPA must now adopt the Lead Poisoning Reduction Act as a whole by requiring all child care facilities to be certified lead-safe within five years."

The EPA announced today that it is proposing to require lead-safe work practices for renovations and repairs to child-occupied facilities, such as child care centers, preschools, and kindergarten classrooms. Today's announcement would expand a proposed rule that the EPA has been considering for lead-safe practices for housing renovations and repairs. This larger rule on housing was mandated by Congress to be completed by 1996 but was never undertaken until Senator Obama forced the EPA to publish the proposed rule in 2005. To lead the EPA to issue the housing rules, Senator Obama threatened to block the confirmation of an EPA official and passed an amendment to stop the EPA from delaying the rulemaking process.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, about 310,000 children nationwide have toxic lead levels in their blood, with poor and minority children disproportionately at risk. The problem of lead contamination is especially great in the Midwest and Northeast where 40 percent of child care centers were built prior to 1960.

Illinois has the highest lead poisoning rate in the nation. According to an Illinois Department of Public Health report, Illinois amounted to 20.5 percent of all elevated blood levels reported nationwide. The report also found that African-American children are more than three times as likely to suffer from elevated lead levels and Hispanic children are more than twice as likely to suffer from elevated lead levels.

Lead paint in older buildings is a primary source of exposure, but significant lead exposure can also come from tap water. Lead is rarely found in the source water used for public water supplies, but more commonly enters tap water as a result of corrosion of water lines, pipes, and household plumbing. Lead in drinking water can be a significant source of lead exposure, and can account for as much as 60 percent of the exposure for infants and children who consume formula and concentrated juices. Children suffer the greatest negative health impacts, since lead adversely impacts physical and mental development, decreased intelligence, behavioral problems, and can also lead to kidney damage, anemia, reproductive disorders, seizures, coma, and even death.

Nearly 12 million children under age 5 spend 40 hours a week in child care. An estimated 14 percent of licensed child care centers nationwide are contaminated with hazardous levels of lead-based paint, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. A recent report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) identified significant, systemic problems with the way in which the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) monitors and regulates the levels of lead in our nation's drinking water including a complete lack of reliable data on which to make assessments and decisions. The GAO study found that few schools and child care facilities nationwide have tested their water for lead and no focal point exists at either the national or state level to collect and analyze test results. Few states have comprehensive programs to detect and remediate lead in drinking water at schools and child care facilities.

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