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Housing Council Bill Introduced
Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) and Senator Mike Johanns (R-NE)
introduced S.1658, the Healthy Housing Council Act of 2009 on September
10th, which would bring together federal, state, and local government representatives,
as well as industry and nonprofit leaders, to examine the most effective ways
to make America’s housing healthier. It is similar to a bill introduced
by Sen. Reed in the previous congress and reported on in the March-April
The bill would authorize $750,000 for each of the next
five years for the Council to review, monitor, and evaluate existing housing,
health, energy, and environmental programs and to make recommendations for reducing
duplication, ensuring collaboration, identifying best practices, and developing
a comprehensive healthy housing research agenda. The Council would submit an
annual report to Congress outlining agency actions on healthy housing, as well
as research, policy/program, and funding recommendations.
Members of the Council would include the agency heads of
the Departments of Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development,
the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Departments of Energy, Veterans
Affairs, Treasury, Agriculture, Education, and Labor. Six members of the Council
would represent state or local agencies, nonprofit organizations, and for-profit
Introduce Bill to Protect Consumers from Formaldehyde in Composite Wood Products
On September 11, U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D, MN) and
Mike Crapo (R, ID) introduced legislation to establish national health standards
for formaldehyde in composite wood products. The bill would cover both domestic
products and foreign imports. With broad support from
the wood products industry as well as environmental, health and labor organizations,
it is widely expected to be enacted without significant controversy.
The standards would match those recently adopted by the
California Air Resources Board that are being phased in over a three-year period.
Broad support is expected for the bill because it favors domestic manufacturers
that are preparing to comply with the California standard as they compete with
a flood of cheaper imported products with high formaldehyde emissions, primarily
from China. ”This legislation is pro-industry, pro-consumer, pro-environment
and pro-public health. Its passage will be a legislative grand slam,”
noted Sen. Klobuchar in a press release.
Formaldehyde is used in many products as an adhesive, bonding
agent or solvent. Most composite wood (made from wood pieces, particles or fibers
bonded together with resin) contains some formaldehyde. Composite wood is used
in common household products such as furniture, cabinets, shelving, countertops,
flooring and molding. At room temperature, formaldehyde releases an invisible
gas into the air. If breathed in at high concentrations, it can pose a health
hazard. It can cause nausea, burning sensations in the eyes and throat, and
difficulty breathing for some people. Formaldehyde is listed as a “probable
human carcinogen” by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The Formaldehyde Standards for Composite Wood Act would
establish national emission standards under the Toxic Substances Control Act
(TSCA) for formaldehyde in new composite wood products. Secondhand products
and antiques are exempted. Under the bill, by January 1, 2012, these products
sold in the U.S. would have to meet a formaldehyde emission standards of about
0.09 parts per million. Collectively, these would be the toughest standards
in the world. The bill would also require third-party testing and certification
to ensure compliance and direct the EPA to work with Customs and Border Protection
and other relevant federal agencies to enforce the standards for imports.
British Lead Study Adds Support to Lowering Lead Level of Concern
A recent study published in the
British journal Archive of Diseases in Childhood reports on the findings of
a longitudinal study examining the impact of lead exposure at 30 months of age
and educational success and hyperactivity in 488 children. The study found that
children with blood lead levels between five and ten micrograms per deciliter
(µg/dL) had lower school test scores at ages 7 and 8. Additionally, it
found that children with a blood lead level over 10 had increased scores for
hyperactivity and anti-social behavior.
The study adds to a large body of evidence demonstrating
the ill effects of lead at levels under the CDC’s 1991 level of concern.
The Alliance agrees with the study authors when they wrote, “Early childhood
exposure to lead affects later educational attainment and behaviour even at
low blood levels (5-10 µg/dL), and the level of concern should be lowered
to 5 µg/dL.”
“Formaldehyde Trailer” Lawsuit Starts and Ends in Defeat for Plaintiffs
Nearly 4 years after Hurricane Katrina sent tens of thousands
of families to live in government-issued trailers, a lawsuit filed by a New
Orleans mother and her son began in mid-September and ended in federal court
10 days later. On September 24, the jury rejected the claim by plaintiffs that
the son's asthma was worsened by high levels of formaldehyde in their trailer
manufactured by Gulf Stream and provided by the Federal Emergency Management
Agency (FEMA). The jury held that the government-issued trailer was not “unreasonably
dangerous” in its construction. One juror reportedly said that the plaintiffs’
attorneys never had the “smoking gun” that proved their case. The
jury also concluded that Fluor Enterprises, who held the contract with FEMA
to install the trailers, wasn’t negligent. No federal agency was named
as a defendant in this case, but federal agencies have been sued in hundreds
of other cases regarding formaldehyde exposure in FEMA trailers.
Plaintiffs' attorney argued that Gulf Stream made an “unreasonably
dangerous” trailer and Flour compounded the formaldehyde risks by improperly
installing it. Gulf Stream's own tests found elevated levels of formaldehyde
in its trailers in early 2006, but the company allegedly failed to warn plaintiffs
about the potential risks. Gulf Stream lawyers urged jurors to consider different
standards for what could be safe levels of formaldehyde, a chemical commonly
found in construction materials that can cause breathing problems and is classified
as a carcinogen. An attorney for the defendants told jurors that formaldehyde
is found in safe levels in many products, including cosmetics, foods and shampoo,
and he downplayed the link between formaldehyde and cancer, saying only one
scientific group has classified the chemical as a carcinogen.
It was unclear how the verdict could affect other
cases, but sometimes verdicts in “bellwether trials” can influence
parties toward a mass settlement of similar claims. However, lawyers typically
wait for several cases to be tried before concluding whether a class of cases
has legal merit. Before trial started, U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt ruled
that a two-year statute of limitations barred the plaintiffs’ claims against
the government. An issue that may play out differently in other suits is whether
a jury would reach a different verdict if the government were a defendant, too.
Government tests on hundreds of trailers in Louisiana and Mississippi found
formaldehyde levels that were, on average, about five times what people are
exposed to in most modern homes. FEMA downplayed formaldehyde risks for months
before those test results were announced in February 2008.
Considers Small Fixes to RRP Rule Requested by Advocates & Industry
The US EPA has agreed to propose clarifications to the
Renovation, Repair, and Painting (RRP) rule. These changes will supplement the
changes anticipated under the recent settlement between the EPA and public interest
petitioners over short comings in the RRP rule (see the August
Alert). The changes were requested by The Alliance, the
National Center for Healthy Housing, and the National Association of Home Builders.
In a September 23 letter, EPA agreed to propose several of the requested changes.
Amongst the more significant changes, EPA agreed to request
comment on the training requirements for principal instructors teaching the
Renovator course. Currently, EPA requires principal instructors to have completed
16 hours of accredited lead-specific training. This training requirement can
be met through existing lead abatement worker, risk assessment, or inspection
classes. The Alliance and other proponents of the change believe that this requirement
is unnecessary since the skills taught in such classes do not prepare one to
teach lead safe renovation, and as a result, this requirement creates a significant
barrier to recruiting the number of trainers needed to successfully implement
EPA also agreed to propose clear language for allowing
online and other alternative delivery methods for the “lecture”
portion of classes (in person hands-on activities would still be required).
EPA will also clarify that the dangerous practices are prohibited or restricted
for all jobs that disturb paint (excluding only paint known not to be leaded
as a opposed to only on jobs that involve lead-based paint), and clarify that
information relevant to lead-safe renovation must be taught on the job to non-certified
workers. These fixes will not make a substantial difference in the requirements
– rather they make the legal language more understandable.
The World Health Organization (WHO) is strengthening their
recommendations to protect against indoor radon, the leading cause of lung
cancer among non-smokers. The new WHO Handbook on Indoor Radon: A Public Health
Perspective, was released September 21st, and can be accessed from WHO’s
WHO recommends lowering radon gas levels by one-third below
the current U.S. guidance, or a threshold of action of 2.7 picocuries per liter
(pCi/L), a measure of radioactivity. The new threshold contrasts with the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) level of 4 pCi/L, an action level that
has been in place for 40 years. The lower WHO action level also doubles the
number of U.S. homes needing radon control systems from 8 million to 15 million.
In addition to testing, the WHO handbook notes that indoor
radon is the result of the way we design and build homes. Thus, WHO places clear
responsibility for radon exposure on architects, builders, and real estate professionals
and urges radon control systems in new homes and testing homes before sale.
Levels can be lowered through very effective yet relatively
inexpensive techniques such as sealing cracks in floors and walls and increasing
the ventilation rate of the building.
Federally Assisted Units to be Made Lead Safe in Settlement with NYC Landlords
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has
announced an agreement with a New York City property management company
and 20 affiliated owners of federally assisted multifamily properties in Brooklyn.
The owners agreed to pay a $20,000 penalty for failing to provide information
regarding lead hazard reduction work at the properties and to clean up lead-based
paint hazards in nearly 800 apartments.
The agreement represents the first administrative settlement
for violations of the Federal Lead
Safe Housing Rule. According to HUD, Star Realty Company and the
property owners failed to provide information to HUD regarding the operation
and condition of the 20 multifamily properties.
Under the settlement, the companies must come into compliance
with the Lead Safe Housing Rule by conducting lead-based paint risk assessments;
providing notification of testing and lead work to tenants; performing lead-based
paint hazard reduction work; conducting clearance examinations; and performing
ongoing operations and maintenance.
The landlords agreed to perform lead-based paint hazard
reduction work in 17 properties containing 639 units. Three other properties
with an additional 149 units were brought into compliance prior to settlement
of this action.
The National Center for Healthy Housing (NCHH) has released
a new study which ranks housing conditions in 45 major metropolitan
areas across the nation. The State
of Healthy Housing reveals a critical need to improve housing conditions,
which will have a direct impact on the health of residents. The ultimate goal
of the report is to increase awareness of housing-related health hazards and
to provide the basis for additional investment in affordable, healthy housing.
The NCHH study uses survey data from the American Housing
Survey (AHS), which is collected by the U.S. Census Bureau for the U.S. Department
of Housing and Urban Development. NCHH selected 20 key housing factors from
AHS that are related to health.
According to the study, the most common housing problems
in U.S. housing are water leaks from the outside (11%) and inside (8%), roofing
problems (6%), damaged interior walls (5%) and signs of mice (5%). Water intrusion
and roof problems contribute to damp home environments, which have been linked
to asthma and other respiratory problems. Hazards such as damaged walls present
a lead poisoning threat in homes built before 1978. Mice have been implicated
in both the development and worsening of asthma.
Charlotte, North Carolina, Anaheim-Santa Ana, California,
and Atlanta, Georgia, rank at the top of the list for having the healthiest
housing. The metropolitan areas of San Francisco, Oakland, and Los Angeles,
California, and New York City ranked as having the least healthy housing.
Blood Lead Levels has Significant Social Benefits
FIn a research article that appeared
in the September 2009 issue of Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine,
author Peter Muennig estimates the social benefits that might be realized if
all children in the United States had a blood lead level of less than 1 µg/dL.
Meunnig concludes that by reducing blood lead levels to
less than 1 µg/dL among all US children between birth and age 6 years
would reduce crime and increase on-time high school graduation rates later in
life. The net societal benefits arising from these improvements in high school
graduation rates and reductions in crime would amount to $50,000 per child annually
at a discount rate of 3%. This would result in overall savings of approximately
$1.2 trillion and produce an additional 4.8 million quality-adjusted life years
for US society as a whole.
MRI Images Suggest Childhood Lead Exposure Linked
to Faulty Brain Wiring
research study published in NeuroToxicology concludes that childhood
lead exposure can result in abnormalities in the wiring of the brain that persist
into adulthood. The study found that low to moderate levels of lead exposure
before birth and as a child can permanently change
the brain’s structure and alter if and how it transmits messages. The
conclusions are based upon comparisons of images of the brain’s nerves
and their protective coverings or “white matter” that forms while
the child is still in the womb and finishes forming during the early years of
life when the brain is most sensitive to the effects of lead. Greater white
matter changes were seen in children who had larger exposure to lead as children.
Those exposures ranged from about 5 to 37 ug/dL of blood, with most falling
between 5 and 10.
The 91 participants - who ranged in age from 20 to 25 years
old - were part of the Cincinnati Lead Study and had been followed since before
birth for lead exposure. The changes seen were present in young adults studied,
showing the effects of childhood lead exposure are not something that will just
get better with time.
Research Links Lead and Heart Disease
Exposure to lead over a lifetime may increase the risk of dying from heart disease,
research shows. Researchers analyzed lead concentrations in the
blood and bones of 868 mostly white men from the Boston area who participated
in the Normative Aging Study.
The authors found bone lead to be associated with all-cause
and cardiovascular mortality in an environmentally exposed population with low
blood lead levels. This study suggests that cumulative lead exposure from prior
decades of high environmental exposures continues to significantly affect risk
of death despite recent declines in environmental lead exposure. Researchers
said the link to cardiovascular disease underscores the need for regulatory
bodies and surveillance agencies to track potential sources of lead exposure.
The Alliance’s Executive Director Patrick MacRoy
traveled to Chicago this month to participate at the 2009 Community Summit:
Communities Moving Towards Healthy Homes. The summit involved community-level
planning sessions for developing strategic plans to achieve the elimination
of lead poisoning and opportunities to access resources related to healthy homes.
Patrick spoke about how to move existing lead programs towards healthy homes
* * * * *
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The Northwest Children’s Environmental Health Forum
will be held October 1-2, 2009 in Tukwila, Washington. You are invited to attend
this two-day event that will bring together policy makers, professionals, K-12
educators, academic researchers, individuals and others to showcase new research,
current science and effective programs. The Forum is Organized by the Children’s
Environmental Health Working group of the Collaborative on Health and the Environment
– Northwest (CHE-NW). For more
information, visit the CHE-NW website.
The National Mid-Year Conference on Eliminating Childhood
Lead Poisoning, Implementing Healthy Homes Programs and Combating Indoor Environmental
Hazards will be held October 15-16, 2009, in Philadelphia, PA. The conference
brings together professionals from health, housing, community development, community
groups, advocacy organizations, the lead industry, real estate firms, and residential
and commercial facilities to explore the ways to undertake programs and projects
designed to prevent incidents of lead poisoning and eliminate indoor environmental
A Lead Poisoning Prevention and Healthy Homes Conference
will be taking place Thursday, October 22, 2009 in Wheaton, IL. The conference
will be held at the DuPage County Administration Building, from 9am –
3:30pm. This conference is held to assist environmental professionals, renovation
contractors, and home property managers in identifying home health risks and
improving maintenance and remodeling practices while maintaining a healthy home
environment for occupants. Sessions will focus primarily on exposure to lead
and home toxicants that may cause short- and long-term health effects as a result
of these exposures. This conference will also cover the US Environmental Protection
Agency's Renovation, Repair, and Painting Rule (RRP). Registration
is free and may be done online at www.idph.state.il.us/training.htm.
For questions regarding online registration, contact Vicky Ritz at email@example.com.
Space is limited. Early registration is recommended.
The 2009 National Environmental Public Health Conference:
Healthy People in a Healthy Environment seeks to promote the nation’s
environmental health capacity by enhancing the expertise of environmental health
professionals - including public health and healthcare professionals, academic
researchers, representatives from communities and organizations, as well as
advocacy and business groups with a primary interest in environmental public
health. The conference
will be held October 25-28 in Atlanta, GA.
The American Public Health Association will be holding
its Annual Meeting, November 7-11, 2009 in Philadelphia, PA. The theme this
year is “Water and Public Health: the 21st Century Challenge.” The
conference will explore the latest public health challenges and learn about
what can be done to protect our resources, our health and our world.
For more information
or to register, visit the APHA website.