Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The EPA Lead Standard: 1200 ppm

Ever since we learned that the DEP had set an artificially strict lead standard for the soils at the Newhall site, there has been considerable discussion with the DEP, our legislators, and neighbors about what should be done to remedy this problem. That discussion is still ongoing, but here are five reasons to adopt 1200 parts per million (ppm) as the lead standard for the Newhall site:

1. Because it is what the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends

The EPA's lead hazard regulation “establishes the following standards for bare residential soil: a hazard standard of 400 ppm by weight in play areas based on the play area bare soil sample and an average of 1,200 ppm in bare soil in the remainder of the yard, based on an average of all other samples collected.” (see the Federal Register, January 5, 2001, p.1211: "Lead; Identification of Dangerous Levels of Lead; Final Rule")

The DEP continues to mislead us, our legislators, the Governor, and the State Auditors by claiming that the artificial lead level of 400 ppm (which it applies to all soil samples, regardless of location or depth) was selected because it is the EPA’s standard. To confirm that we are telling the truth, just type in “EPA soil lead standard” in Google and you will find yourself at the EPA’s own Lead Hazard web page. On that page, you will find confirmation of the EPA standards and also a link to the Federal Register so that you can see the full legal document for yourself. As that Federal record makes clear, the EPA only added the 400 ppm caveat for bare soil in children’s play areas if such areas were clearly marked—like a playground—and could be readily identified. The EPA is quite explicit that 400 ppm should not be applied to the whole yard and that the samples should be averaged.

2. Because a 1200 ppm standard already goes well beyond what is necessary to protect our health and the health of our children

Even the current levels of lead in the soil—without any remediation at all—have not led to any lead contamination in Newhall. Extensive tests have shown that blood lead levels in children (and adults) in Newhall are well below the minimum risk levels set by the EPA. In fact, in the thirty years since the Quinnipiack Valley Health District began testing the lead levels of blood in the residents of our area, only three children have ever shown blood lead levels above the minimum. Two of those children had recently been moved to homes in the Newhall neighborhood as part of a lead decontamination program, and their blood lead levels dropped dramatically after they moved to Newhall from lead contaminated homes in New Haven. The third child had suffered contamination from lead paint within the home. All children in Connecticut are now screened for lead, and there are proportionately fewer cases of lead contamination in Newhall than there are in the rest of Hamden, or in most cities in the State (see the DPH data here). There is now overwhelming evidence that the relatively low lead concentrations in the soils of our neighborhood have not, and do not, pose any risk to our health. In light of this, even 1200 appears an excessive standard if public health is our concern. A 1200 ppm standard is more than safe.

3. Because the DEP's artificial standard is set below the average soil lead levels in the Northeastern U.S.

The EPA has studied the problem of health risks from soil lead for decades and they have reams of data on lead levels in residential soils. During the extensive research and analysis that went into developing the 1200 ppm lead standard, the EPA determined that the average soil lead concentration
for all homes of this age in the Northeastern United States were 542 ppm for homes built prior to 1940 and 573 ppm for homes built between 1940 and 1959. If the artificial standards that the DEP applied in this case were applied throughout the Northeast, the vast majority of homes built prior to 1959 would be classified as lying on contaminated waste and slated for remediation.

4. Because using the EPA standard will allow us to clean up all of the contamination in Newhall while saving many millions of dollars, and leave us and our properties with a clean bill of health and no land use restrictions.

By adopting the EPA’s 1200 standard, the vast majority of homes currently slated for remediation would be cleared. Most homes have been labeled as "contaminated" falsely, due to the artificial standard. As a result, by setting the EPA standard of 1200 ppm we would be left with an affordable, manageable, and non-intrusive cleanup. There are better ways to spend $72 million on this community than digging up clean soils that have been shown to be harmless through repeated testing over many decades.

5. Because it's the right thing to do, and the Commissioner can do it easily.

The Commissioner has already set an arbitrary site-specific standard of 400 ppm, claiming that she did so on the grounds that 400 is the standard used by the EPA. We are simply asking her to adopt the true EPA standard. If she had the authority to adopt a false standard, she surely has the authority to adopt the real thing. In fact, she is not the only one who can make the change. The Commissioner has extended the authority to set “site-specific standards" to the Director of Remediation, a post currently occupied by Patrick Bowe. The Connecticut Remediation Standard Regulations even explain, on page 15, how to request the Commissioner’s approval of “Alternative Soil Criteria.” It can be done today.

To our elected representatives:

It is rare in politics that we are presented with good solutions without significant tradeoffs. By simply adopting the EPA’s recommended standard, we—as a state, town, and community—will save millions of dollars, prevent many people from being turned out of their homes, protect the health of ourselves and our children, and solve the problem fully and finally.

Governor, we are hoping that you, in particular, will take up our cause. Please help us turn this around before more damage is done. At this point, only a few million dollars in State funds have been lost, and the disruption of our lives and the damage to our neighborhood is nothing compared to what will happen if you do not act soon. Please ask the Commissioner to adopt the EPA’s lead standard for our site.