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Hearing of the Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works - Lead and Children's Health

Interview

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Location: Washington, DC

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SEN. LARRY CRAIG (R-ID): Madame Chairman, thank you very much.

Yesterday when we were looking through this committee at Superfund and where we are with its administration and response, I mentioned the situation that had occurred in Idaho a good number of years ago, and I suspect all of us have those stories.

While we clearly don't have the legacy of old metropolitan areas or old communities of the kind that Senator Cardin spoke of, we were the second largest producer of lead in the nation for a century following Missouri, as Senator Bond has spoken to.

And during that time, and within the Superfund site of the Coeur d'Alene Basin, we had a smelter who, through its filtration system, broke down, and for well over a couple of years lead dust settled in over this valley. There was no question at the time that it was stopped, the children of that valley and the adults of that valley had a substantial elevated lead level.

And over the course of the '80s and the '90s I have worked with that valley to clean itself up. It literally is a matter of vacuuming the valley, removing the dirt from the yards, repainting the homes, vacuuming out the attics and, of course, changing the whole character; and the blood lead levels have dropped dramatically.

While there are great success stories to be told, and Senator Inhofe has mentioned one that we cannot walk away from; the chart shows it -- because of the attention we've paid, this government has paid and, therefore, the marketplace has paid to lead, we've reduced those lead levels 89 percent. Senator Cardin spoke of lead levels in Baltimore down 90 percent in certain areas.

So there are tremendous success stories to be told, but it also reminds us that effective and responsive oversight ought to continue to be done because there clearly -- this is not a story yet that you can write its final chapter yet, nor should you.

And so I thank you very much today for the attention you're giving. But as we have brought down our levels here, now we have to focus offshore, and that's where we have been at error and that's what this hearing offers us.

And it forces the marketplace to get smart too, and they haven't been; it's pretty obvious by all of the stories told and by the millions of products recalled.

Between what we can do, what the Centers for Disease Control can do, what the Consumer Product Safety Commission can do, and what the marketplace is already doing to these toy manufacturers -- there's a phenomenal economic penalty that's going on out there at this moment. That in combination refocuses us as it refocuses the American consumer in a way that's critically important.

And so the combination of it all, Madame Chairman, your attention to it, the attention of this committee and this Congress, is going to be very critical in continuing the writing of the next chapter in what I think is a great American success story -- yet unfinished -- from a legacy of our industrial past where we simply did not know, to a state where we now know it today.

And we're doing the right things in combination with the EPA and all of the agencies involved, and in cooperation with the marketplace and the private sector to get it right and keep it right for the American consumer.

Thank you very much.

SEN. BOXER: Senator, thank you.

I think all senators have really made a contribution. And before I call on Mr. Gulliford, I want to put something in the record.

I think everyone who said that lead on average is the big -- that paint on average is the biggest source of lead is absolutely correct. And everyone who cited these statistics is absolutely correct.

On average paint is a bigger source of lead, but for kids who have lead toys like some of these here, the biggest source of lead can be a toy. So everything we're doing on paint is commendable -- and by the way, there will be more we have to do, which we'll be talking about.

So what I want to put in the record is a list of some of these products. And I want to make a point here that the safety level of lead in paint -- and correct me if I'm wrong here -- is 600 parts per million; anything above that is deemed unsafe.

I want to give you an example: vinyl bibs recalled in Illinois, 1,000 ppm lead -- a thousand. Remember, 600 is the level that's safe. We have the -- some other ones. Here: vinyl lunch box -- the one that's in California, Spanish language -- 16,000 parts per million lead; Spiderman lunch box, a thousand parts per million; a teething toy, 900 parts per million lead; bendable toys, 10,000 -- et cetera, et cetera.

And jewelry chains from Claire's it appears that one has 30,000 parts per million and there's a hair clasp with 450 parts per million.

I mean, this is what we'll put in the record. The point is, my colleagues, you are so right, this is a success story that we've had here, but it's getting ahead of us and we need to catch up to --

SEN. CRAIG: Madame Chairman?

SEN. BOXER: Yes.

SEN. CRAIG: Those products you've just mentioned -- how many of those are manufactured offshore?

SEN. BOXER: (Off mike.) I would say the vast majority, but --

SEN. CRAIG: Nearly 100 percent, I would guess.

SEN. BOXER: Probably close to that, and that's the point, Senator.

SEN. KLOBUCHAR: Madame Chair, all the toys recalled have been recalled from China this year.

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