Ranking Member, Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works
Full Committee hearing entitled, "The Latest Science on Lead's Impacts on Children's Development and Public Health."
Thursday, July 12, 2012 10:00 AM
I understand that we are having a hearing today about one of the things that I think all members of Congress agree on: lead exposure in children is harmful. I appreciate the opportunity to hear from both the CDC and EPA about their ongoing scientific understanding of how lead impacts human health.
Before we get started, I hope we take a minute to discuss the very important public health success story we have regarding reducing lead exposure in children. Since 1976, average blood lead levels in children have been reduced nearly 10-fold, from 15 micrograms per deciliter in 1976 to 1.5 micrograms per deciliter in 2008. The number of children tested each year has increased while the blood lead level of those tested continues to decrease. In most states, CDC's old blood lead level of concern of 10 micrograms per deciliter or greater is found in less than one percent of children tested. We have accomplished this by focusing on those sources of lead exposure that had a significant impact on blood lead levels. The United States has some of the lowest lead paint limits and limits on the lead content of toys in the entire world. We have minimized or eliminated hazardous amounts of lead in consumer products, gasoline, and the environment, resulting in a dramatic decrease in blood lead levels across the entire nation.
We here in Congress continue to take steps toward further reducing lead exposure. Last Congress, Sen. Boxer and I were successful in updating the definition of "lead free" in the Safe Drinking Water Act - through the Reduction of Lead in Drinking Water Act - which tightened the legal definition of "lead free" for pipes and fixtures from 8 percent to 0.25 percent lead in the whetted surfaces of pipes. Additionally, as part of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act this year, we authorized the FAA Administrator to continue the important work on research and development for a safe transition to unleaded aircraft fuel.
As we continue to take additional steps toward further reducing childhood lead exposure, I would encourage my colleagues to focus on ensuring that we are proposing achievable, common sense responses to the problem that will provide actual health benefits to children. Our approach toward reducing toxicologically significant blood lead levels must be based on a scientific approach and not precautionary paranoia. And we need robust oversight to ensure that the programs we have in place are effective.
I am disappointed that we as a committee are missing a real opportunity to get feedback on EPA's current regulatory efforts to reduce childhood lead exposure. I am pleased that Dr. Vandenberg is here to discuss EPA's NAAQs revisions on lead, and I'm sure he would agree with me that a major success of the Clean Air Act and EPA's regulatory efforts is the removal of lead from motor vehicle gasoline. This has had a dramatic effect of lowering levels of lead in the air. They decreased by 94 percent between 1980 and 1999. Unfortunately, it does not appear we have anyone present who can update us on the implementation of the Reduction of Lead in Drinking Water Act, either from the regulator or regulated community, or to update us about other EPA programs.
I am very concerned that EPA's current efforts to further reduce lead exposures are not achieving their full potential. EPA's Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting rule's implementation has been inconsistent and confusing, and I am very concerned that the benefits of this rule are not being fully realized. When we have exercised oversight, positive changes have been made. Last Congress, the Senate overwhelmingly approved the Collins Amendment to H.R. 4899, which resulted in EPA extending the compliance deadline for taking lead safe training courses. Since then, there have continued to be issues with the program's execution and poor enforcement that I believe require additional oversight in order to ensure that the program actually achieves its health goals: protecting children from lead dust exposure. Madam Chairman, I would remind you that last year the Republicans on this committee requested an oversight hearing on this rule, and we have yet to have one. I know there are still many concerns and confusion from the regulated community and the public health community about how EPA is enforcing and educating the public, and I hope that we can address them at a future hearing.
Each year we get closer to reducing the blood lead levels of the population of this nation to that of the background exposure level of the ambient environment. I hope that as we move forward from this hearing toward developing policies that help further address lead exposure, we focus on science based, common sense approaches that will provide achievable and meaningful health benefits.