Bush upholds new lead reporting requirements on 10,000 businesses
WASHINGTON (AP) – The Bush administration is pushing ahead with new regulations requiring nearly 10,000 more businesses to inform the government and nearby residents about lead released into the environment.
The rules, issued during the last two weeks of the Clinton presidency, are aimed at reducing cases of lead poisoning, which has been linked to learning disabilities in children and high blood pressure and nervous disorders in adults.
Environmental Protection Agency chief Christie Whitman said Tuesday the new administration had concluded the regulations were needed after weighing the health implications against industry complaints about the paperwork required. The rules are effective immediately.
”Poisoning from exposure to lead still harms too many children each year in America,” Whitman said. ”I am confident this action is an important step toward protecting the health of children and expanding communities’ right to know.”
Environmental groups welcomed the announcement from an administration they have criticized for rolling back several other Clinton decisions, including measures to reduce arsenic in drinking water and to force mining operations to post bonds equal to estimated cleanup costs.
Still, Allen Mattison of the Sierra Club got in some criticism, saying, ”This is more of a case of Bush deciding he will not stand in the way of a real protection and trying to claim that’s environmental leadership.”
The new regulations require manufacturing or processing plants that emit at least 100 pounds of lead or lead compounds a year to report the releases annually to the government. That includes everything from makers of wiring and pipe fittings to battery makers and electronics recyclers.
The first reports for 2001 will be collected and included in the government’s next annual Toxics Release Inventory a year from now. The data on toxic releases and their origins is made available to the public through several sources, including the EPA’s Internet site.
Current regulations require a facility to report any lead or lead-compound emissions if the facility processes more than 25,000 pounds annually or uses 10,000 pounds a year. EPA officials estimated the regulations would mean at least a sixfold increase in the 1,878 industrial facilities currently reporting lead emissions.
Bush, in a statement, called the decision ”an important and responsible approach” to keeping the public informed about lead in their communities. He also instructed Whitman to provide technical assistance to small businesses that must now comply with the more stringent lead-reporting rule.
Health experts said the increased data will give them a wealth of new material for linking sources of lead pollution to cases of lead poisoning and retarded development.
”The new rule doesn’t help enforce health standards, but it provides a first step so we know how much lead is out in the air,” said Tarek Rizk, a spokesman for Physicians for Social Responsiblity. ”The next step is to begin to monitor chronic disease and how the exposures may begin to impact our health.”
Lead has been classified as a probable human carcinogen, meaning it causes cancerous tumors in rats and mice but has not been formally tested in humans.
In the past several years, lead- and zinc-processing plant smokestacks have belched into the air most of the quarter billion pounds or more of lead released into the environment annually in the United States.
Though it mostly enters the environment from smokestacks, the lead often ends up in water. It enters the body through soft tissue and sometimes gets stored in bones and teeth.
Seventy-three trade groups had asked Whitman in a letter last month to rescind the new reporting requirements.
”This rule has been the subject of enormous controversy with respect to both its scientific basis and the manner in which EPA complied – or failed to comply – with laws protecting small business,” said Jane Luxton, an attorney representing a coalition of 30 trade groups in the metals industry.
Tom Sullivan, director of the legal foundation for the National Federation of Independent Business, said it will file suit next week in U.S. District Court in Washington challenging the new regulations.
”It’s the equivalent of being told the day after tax day that you no longer can fill out the 1040EZ – you instead have to fill out a full set of complex tax documents – but from an environmental perspective,” Sullivan said. ”It’s going to harm small business.”
The regulations had been approved by the EPA on Jan. 8 but were among dozens of new standards issued in the last weeks of Clinton’s presidency that Bush agreed to review upon taking office.
On the Net:
EPA Toxic Release Inventory: http://www.epa.gov/tri
EPA Lead Programs: http://www.epa.gov/opptintr/lead/index.html
Sierra Club: http://www.sierraclub.org/
Physicians for Social Responsiblity: http://www.psr.org/
National Federation of Independent Business: http://www.nfib.com/
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