US debuts childhood-lead plan that critics say falls short

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration released an "action plan" Wednesday against devastating childhood exposure to lead, but critics said it held little new to protect millions of American children living with high levels of the metal.

Children in at least 4 million American households are exposed to high levels of lead, including through old, chipped lead-based paint, or contaminated dust and soil, water and air, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A half-million children ages 5 or younger have blood-borne lead at levels that should trigger public-health intervention, the CDC said.

Flanked by Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, acting Environmental Protection Agency chief Andrew Wheeler called the strategy developed by a 17-agency task force a "roadmap to reduce lead exposure nationwide."

Asked what the plan had in the way of new actions, Wheeler pointed to changes that have already been under way, noting the Trump administration was moving forward on revising standards for lead in dust and in drinking water. By next March, the EPA also would release metrics for monitoring progress on lead abatement, among other steps, the agency said.

Environmental and public health advocates said they welcomed the attention to lead contamination. However, they faulted the plan for lacking deadlines for regulatory or enforcement action.

"It may be a sham of a plan," said Tom Neltner, chemicals policy director for the Environmental Defense Fund and a member of a federal advisory committee on childhood health.

Federal action since the 1970s, including prohibitions on lead-based household paint and on leaded gasoline, has substantially reduced lead exposure. Lead can cause lifelong brain damage and other harm, especially for children.

The water crisis in Flint, Michigan, under the Obama administration underscored the widespread risks remaining.

Scott Pruitt, President Donald Trump's first EPA chief, pledged to wage a "war on lead" before ethics scandals forced him out.