The Administration’s New Lead Action Plan Is a Step Forward, but We Can Finish the Fight with a Leap
by Amanda Reddy, Executive Director
Lead poisoning is a problem we can solve, and the National Center for Healthy Housing applauds the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to preventing lead exposure and the harm it has unjustly and unnecessarily conferred on generations of American children. The December 16, 2021, release of the Biden-Harris Lead Pipe and Paint Action Plan is a good start on that promise, but we urge the administration, Congress, and leaders at the federal, state, and local levels not to stop there. If the administration is serious about eradicating this environmental justice issue that disproportionately impacts low-income communities and communities of color, they’ll need to address lead more holistically (and lead-based paint in particular), as the plan’s name, but not its current list of promises, suggests. At a minimum, the administration should consider the following measures:
- Increase investment in remediation of hazards from lead-based paint, which is still the most significant source of lead exposure for American children. This will require NEW funding, not just a repackaging of existing programs and services. The investments described in the Build Back Better Act are imperative, but like the multiple investments already outlined for lead service line replacement, additional investment will be needed to address other important sources of lead exposure, starting with lead-based paint hazards.
- Remove barriers to testing and remediation, including revising disclosure requirements in a way that protects those with few options for a lead-safe home.
- Increase enforcement of EPA’s Renovation, Repair, and Painting (RRP) Rule, which has an estimated return on investment of more than $3 for every dollar spent.
- Diversify funding streams and financing mechanisms to support the remediation of lead-based paint hazards in the home environment.
- Ban partial lead replacements—which can increase lead exposure—and cover all expenses associated with full replacement to address equity concerns with replacement programs that rely on property owners to cover the costs.
- Get lead out of food and other consumer products, especially those intended for children.
- Modernize data systems to allow for earlier detection and remediation of potential childhood exposure to lead.
- Incentivize needed innovation to address technological barriers to identifying and responding to lead exposure (in humans, homes, and drinking water).
- Pass the Build Back Better Act as soon as possible, preserving the investments in reducing lead exposure through drinking water and lead-based paint hazards.
The administration’s goal is achievable and commendable, and after decades of research and real-world experience, it isn’t a leap of faith to say that we know how to get it done. It simply means deciding to leap into instead of stepping closer to a future where we find and fix lead hazards before children are exposed and harmed. We can only eliminate unnecessary lead exposures if we commit to looking at lead exposure holistically and implementing comprehensive solutions that address the entire range of exposures within a given community. As we have noted previously, improving housing quality doesn’t just improve health: It also lifts up our communities through improvements in education and productivity—allowing individuals and families to thrive—and can also generate important co-benefits for other administration priorities like climate change, racial equity, and affordable, resilient housing. For example, replacing older lead-painted windows with new energy-efficient ones eliminates a major source of childhood lead poisoning, decreases home utility bills, reduces carbon emissions by improving energy efficiency, improves home values, creates thousands of jobs and revenue for window manufacturers and installers, and targets one of our nation’s most persistent and shameful environmental injustices.
We applaud this first step and the commitment it signals, and we look forward to working with the administration, Congress, key federal agencies, leaders at the state and local levels, and other stakeholders to build on this foundation and create a plan that will deliver on the administration’s vision that “no child, no family, no teacher, no American should drink water with lead or be exposed to lead paint in their homes.”
Amanda Reddy, MS, Executive Director of the National Center for Healthy Housing, has advanced numerous initiatives, including those related to healthcare financing of healthy homes services, training and technical assistance to support the launch and growth of sustainable healthy homes programs, and the development of indicators for the HUD Healthy Communities Index. Prior to NCHH, Ms. Reddy was a research scientist with the New York State Department of Health, where she provided program evaluation, management, and technical support for the Asthma Control, Healthy Homes and Lead Poisoning Primary Prevention, Healthy Neighborhoods, and Healthy Home Environments for New Yorkers with Asthma programs. Ms. Reddy holds an MS in environmental health from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and a BA in neuroscience from Mount Holyoke College.