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As EPA Scrambles to Update Federal Lead Rules, N.H. Lawmakers Consider State Policy

Jack Rodolico

State lawmakers will consider a proposal this week aimed at better preventing childhood lead poisoning. Governor Sununu is expected to endorse the measure Tuesday.

Among other changes, the legislation requires all one and two year-olds be tested for the level of lead in their blood. In recent years, testing rates have remained far below where public health officials would like. Claremont moved this year to become the first community in the state to mandate the screenings at the local level. 

The blood tests are important because they serve as a triggering mechanism for the state to notify parents and landlords, and to become involved in remediation efforts. The proposed legislation lowers the threshold at which that notification takes place. The new standard would comply with that recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Lead exposure, even in tiny amounts, can be poisonous to children, resulting in permanent neurological and behavioral disability. “It’s a major public health problem that’s been neglected for too long,” said Elliott Berry, with New Hampshire Legal Assistance.

Advocates for stricter regulations also point to an economic argument. In the long run, Berry said, lead poisoning increases state costs for special education, juvenile justice and adult corrections.

New Hampshire has some of the oldest housing stock in the country, translating to a higher likelihood of exposure to lead through lead paint. Several hundred children are recorded poisoned in the state each year, and – because only a portion of New Hampshire children are screened – those numbers may significantly underestimate the problem.

Meanwhile, a federal appeals court this week ordered the EPA to update within 90 days its standards relating to lead dust in homes. Officials with the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services say those standards will affect housing inspections at the state level, but until the new rules are written, it’s difficult to predict exactly what changes will be made.

Those standards relate to the process of certifying a unit is safe after remediation efforts have taken place, said Beverly Drouin, with the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services. The EPA is expected to reduce the amount of lead dust deemed permissible in an inspection, she said.