Policy Watch: Alabama legislature authorizes enhanced lead regulations
by Anantha Korrapati
Lead is a natural chemical commonly used in various products such as household paint (before 1978), gasoline (before 1995), and plumbing pipes and fixtures. However, it is a potent neurotoxin that harms people, especially children, and pregnant women.
According to the EPA, lead can be absorbed into the body through inhalation or ingesting lead dust from paint coatings or contaminated drinking water. It then travels through the bloodstream to accumulate in the bones. Depending on the level of exposure, lead can adversely affect the nervous system, kidney function, immune system, reproductive and developmental systems, and cardiovascular system. It has been shown to cause brain damage and cognitive deficits in children, even at low exposure levels. Lead exposure also affects the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood. Levels should be checked through blood tests since there are no apparent symptoms of elevated blood lead levels (BLL). In Alabama, a BLL of five micrograms per deciliter (µg/dL) or higher is considered elevated.
Lead dust can be caused by air pollution near ore and metals processing centers and piston-engine aircraft operating on leaded aviation fuel. The highest lead particulate matter is found in soil near lead smelters at about 50-400 parts per million.
According to the EPA, there are two extensive lead smelting facilities in Alabama that are superfund sites–nationally contaminated sites with improperly managed hazardous waste that are under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), allowing the EPA to clean up contaminated sites and forces responsible parties to assist or reimburse them for cleanup services.
The Interstate Lead Company, or ILCO, had a secondary lead smelter and lead battery recycling facility operating in Leeds, Alabama, from 1970 to 1992. It was named a superfund site in 1986 due to contaminated groundwater, sediment, soil, and surface water resulting from facility operations. The EPA, the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM), and the ILCO Site Remediation Group, the site’s potentially responsible parties (PRPs), have investigated site conditions. Site contamination does not currently threaten people living and working near the site. The other facility is the Sanders Lead Company in Troy, Alabama. The complete list of lead mines in Alabama can be found here.
SB158, sponsored by Senator Bobby D. Singleton, is titled “Lead reduction, Alabama Lead Reduction Act, lead abatement and further regulation of lead hazard reductions” and aims to regulate lead hazard regulations further, revise the authority of the State Board of Health to conduct lead inspections, enforce the Alabama Lead Reduction Act of 1997, and provide criminal penalties for violation.
It was signed into law in April 2022 by Governor Kay Ivey.
The act will establish a program to educate owners on renovation, risk assessments by health officers, a state-accredited program for lead hazard training, enforcement of the Alabama Lead Reduction Act of 1997, and fines for violations.
Many homes and public buildings designed before 1978 may have lead-based paint on surfaces or fixtures, and this act establishes abatement and renovation accreditation programs for both individuals and firms under “Safe State,” the state accreditation agency for lead hazard training through the University of Alabama. These programs are in accordance with Title IV of the Federal Toxic Substances Control Act.
Abatement is defined as the removal of lead-based paint or contaminated dust, replacement of lead-painted surfaces or fixtures, and the removal or covering of lead-contaminated soil.
Renovation is defined as fixing painted components and removing building components with weatherization projects and any interim controls that disturb painted surfaces during the conversion of a building.
The legislation also establishes risk assessments where “the State Health Officer may conduct investigations of general lead contamination problems or conditions in public buildings and upon request of the building owner of commercial buildings, or the request of the owner or occupant of residential buildings.”
The Alabama Lead Contractor Certification Program established by the Alabama Lead Reduction Act of 1997 consists of Lead Hazard Reduction Contractor Certification (Abatement) and Alabama Lead Renovation Contractor Certification. This new legislation defers this training to the “Safe State” program.
Violations of this legislation depend on the number of incidences and can apply to individuals and firms. The fines are as follows:
- First offense: $250
- Second offense: $500
- Third offense: $2500 – $5000
According to a study done in Kent County, Michigan (where over 50% of respondents live in homes built pre-1978), a lead safety course for parents was successful in promoting education and empowerment. However, the researchers stated that “longer-term solutions require advocacy at community and policy levels and cannot be prevented by individual behavior,” such as lead-safe mopping or collecting dust from window sills. Therefore, the legislation in Alabama will hopefully provide lasting changes through the renovation and abatement programs.
This legislation will improve air quality, both primary and secondary air standards stated below:
National Ambient Air Quality Standards: 0.15 micrograms lead per cubic meter of air
- Primary: publichealth protection, including protecting the health of “sensitive” populations such as asthmatics, children, and the elderly
- Secondary: public welfare protection, including protection against decreased visibility and damage to animals, crops, vegetation, and buildings
According to a cost-benefit analysis from 2009, “Each dollar invested in lead paint hazard control results in a return of $17–$221”. This analysis compared the baseline cost of implementing lead hazard control programs to the health care costs and social behavioral costs incurred by lead poisoning, specifically in children.
Specifically, in Alabama, ValueofLeadPrevention.org estimates $1 billion worth of lifetime economic burden of childhood lead exposure–including costs of “reduced lifetime productivity; increased health care, education, and social assistance spending; and premature mortality.”
Below is a map of the estimated percentage of children with elevated BLLs:
More economical costs and benefits of lead hazard training can be found here with research done by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.
The Alabama Department of Public Health and UA are managing this legislation.
UA SafeState now manages registration for Individual Accreditation and Firm Certification. Register Here.
Firms that seek to be certified to perform renovations must have certification from the Alabama Department of Public Health and at least one individual accredited by UA’s Safe State program.
Here are a few EPA guidelines for individual actions to reduce lead exposure and poisoning.
- Eat healthy foods with calcium, iron, and vitamin C. These foods may help keep lead from being digested.
- Regularly wash hands, toys, and horizontal surfaces with soapy water and disposable cleaning materials.
- Vacuum with a High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filtered vacuum
- Take shoes off before entering the home or living areas
- Cover lead-exposed soil with fruitless plant materials
- Hire certified lead professionals to assist with home renovations in pre-1978 housing
- Homes built before 1978 are more likely to have lead-based paint. Performing home renovations may disturb this paint and be a source of lead exposure. Using lead-safe work practices is critical when renovating. For guidance on lead-safe renovations, please visit the EPA or hire a certified lead professional to do the work for you.