Springfield Journal Register

November 05, 2005

Sen. Obama takes a stand on lead paint regulations


WASHINGTON - Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., on Friday put a hold on President Bush's nominee to a key Environmental Protection Agency post because the agency has failed to meet a promised deadline for issuing regulations for lead paint exposure from house remodeling.

Obama placed a hold on the nomination of Susan Bodine to be assistant administrator of the EPA's Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response. He also said he would block all future EPA nominees until the agency issues the rules for contractors engaged in home remodeling.

Illinois has the highest rate of childhood lead poisoning in the country.

In 2003, Sangamon County had 118 children under age 7 with elevated levels, 4 percent of the 2,904 tested, according to a recent Illinois Department of Health report. One of the state's worst rates was in Peoria County, where 297 children had dangerous levels of lead in their blood, 14.6 percent of the 2,041 who were tested.

About 84 percent of the houses in Peoria County were built before 1978, when lead-based paint was banned.

"The EPA has reneged on its commitment to me, and to parents and children across the country, to issue simple rules that would prevent thousands of kids from needlessly suffering from lead-paint poisoning," Obama said.

"I find it unbelievable that the EPA would continue to drag its feet despite the fact that their own analysis found that these rules could prevent 28,000 lead-related illnesses each year."

Senate rules allow a single senator to block a nomination.

Under a 1992 law, Congress required the EPA to issue regulations by 1996. But no action was taken by either the Clinton or the Bush administration.

After Obama and other Democrats threatened to hold up nominees earlier this year, Marcus Peacock, then the Bush administration's nominee for deputy administrator, promised the rules would be issued by Dec. 31, 2005.

But Obama's staff was notified by the EPA Monday that the rules wouldn't be ready until February. Obama informed them he would put a hold on Bodine's nomination.

EPA spokeswoman Eryn Witcher said Friday the agency will meet the Dec. 31 deadline after all.

"We're working on doing the rule by the end of the year," she said.

�Even one child impacted by lead is one child too many.�

Obama then demanded that agency officials put that in writing.

�The EPA has had 13 years to issue this rule. Earlier this week, EPA staff indicated that they would likely not complete this rule until February. If the EPA will guarantee in writing that this rule will be completed by the end of the year, Senator Obama will lift the hold,� an Obama spokesman said.

The city of Springfield has identified about 40 children currently known to have very high lead levels, said Linda Cress, community program specialist for lead awareness.

�It�s a very prominent problem in the Springfield area that we are trying to work on,� Cress said.

Lead is more dangerous to children than adults because young brains and nervous systems are still developing.

�Once a child has lead poisoning and it affects their central nervous system, it�s irreversible. And it�s one of the most preventable disorders we have,� Cress said.

�All you have to do is get rid of the lead paint, and the babies won�t be poisoned.�