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On January 7, 2021, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency finalized a rule that decreases the amount of lead that can remain in dust on floors and window sills after lead removal activities. The rule requires contractors, schools, daycares, property owners, lessors of residential buildings, lead abatement professionals and others who conduct lead-based paint activities to achieve the more stringent dust-lead clearance levels prior to building re-occupancy. The change is intended to reduce childhood lead exposure and applies to certain residential dwellings and facilities occupied by children. 

The new rule reduces dust-lead clearance levels (DLCL) from 40 micrograms per square foot (μg/ft2) to 10 μg/ft2 for floors, and from 250 μg/ft2 to 100 μg/ft2 for window sills. EPA declined to change DLCL for window troughs, which remain at 400 μg/ft2.

Clearance levels are defined as “values that indicate the amount of lead in dust on a surface following completion of an abatement activity.” DLCL are used to determine whether abated buildings are safe and suitable for re-occupancy. The rule clarifies that post-abatement dust-lead levels must be below, not equal to, the revised clearance levels. 

Lead exposure affects individuals of all ages but is particularly harmful to young children. Lead in dust is a significant contributor to blood lead levels in children, especially those who live in homes built before 1978 when the federal government banned consumer uses of lead in paint.

EPA established the DLCL and Dust Lead Hazard Standards (DLHS) under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) in 2001. While DLCL apply after an abatement is conducted, DLHS are limits that provide the basis for inspectors and risk assessors to determine whether lead-based paint (LBP) hazards are present prior to a renovation or abatement activity. In 2019, EPA revised the DLHS to 10 μg/ft2 for floors and 100 μg/ft2 for window sills but declined to extend the change to DLCL. The new rule updates DLCL to be consistent with the DLHS.

Based on data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, a large majority of floors and window sills are already meeting the revised DLCL after an abatement. EPA indicates that several states and localities adopted DLCL below the 2001 federal standards, and an estimated half of all contractors are already applying the revised DLHS as clearance levels. However, for those not already applying the more stringent standards, costs of cleanup are likely to increase due to specialized cleaning, retesting of lead levels, and in some cases the sealing or repainting of floors or window sills. 

EPA finalized the rule under Sections 401 and 402 of TSCA. The rule applies to most pre-1978 housing and non-residential (i.e., public or commercial) properties where children under the age of six spend a significant amount of time, such as child care centers, preschool and kindergarten classrooms, and certain church programs. The rule does not generally apply to zero-bedroom dwellings (where the living area is not separated from the sleeping area) such as studios and lofts, nor to housing for the elderly or persons with disabilities. Individuals who perform LBP activities in residences they own and reside in are exempt from the rule unless the residence is also occupied by a person other than the owner or the owner’s immediate family while the abatement is being performed, or a child residing in the building has been identified as having an elevated blood lead level. 

While the rule does not require property owners to evaluate their properties or perform control activities, it is triggered upon someone performing an abatement. “Abatement” is defined as “measures designed to permanently eliminate lead-based paint hazards.” It includes the removal and containment of LBP, as well as the preparation, cleanup, disposal and associated post-abatement clearance testing activities. 

DLCL apply when treating lead paint hazards of two or more square feet per room, 20 or more square feet on the exterior of a building, or greater than 10% of the total surface area of an interior or exterior component with a small surface area. They also apply to any activity that involves window replacement or demolition. Maintenance and repair activities intended to repair, restore or remodel a dwelling rather than permanently eliminate LBP hazards are not considered an abatement but are still regulated under the DLHS. The new rule does not retroactively apply to those who have previously performed post-abatement clearance testing using the original 2001 DLCL.


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