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California Department of Public Health (CDPH) Lowers Definition Of Lead-contaminated Dust

As of February 2, 2022, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) has lowered its definition of lead-contaminated dust in the California Code of Regulations (CCR) – the official notice can be seen at the link below:

The new definition updates section 35035 of CDPH’s Title 17 and lowers the standard for interior floor surfaces from 40 micrograms (µg) of lead in dust per square foot (ft2) to 10 µg/ft2. It also reduces the standard for interior horizontal surfaces from 250 µg/ft2 to 100 µg/ft2 (the standard for exterior floor and exterior horizontal surfaces remains unchanged at 400 µg/ft2). 

The change comes in response to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reducing their standards for lead clearance wipe sampling in residential housing and childcare facilities to the same limits back in early 2020. You may be asking, why did it take so long for CDPH to adopt these new lower levels? Isn’t California supposed to be the most cutting edge with respect to environmental regulatory policy?

To fully understand the answer to that question, allow us to do a quick deep dive into the differences between the EPA and CDPH’s lead regulations. The EPA, more specifically the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), regulates lead-based paint hazards through their Title X regulation which applies to residential housing and child care facilities –  it’s most firmly aimed at reducing the instances of potential lead poisoning in children. CDPH’s Title 17 regulation, on the other hand, applies to residential buildings, child care facilities, AND public buildings. From CDPH’s Title 17 section 35045, a public building “means a structure or part of a structure, and its land, which is generally accessible to the public, including but not limited to, schools, daycare centers, museums, airports, hospitals, stores, convention centers, government facilities, office buildings and any other building which is not an industrial building or a residential building.”

If you know a bit about Federal environmental policy, then you know that a state may appoint its own regulatory body and related legislation so long as that agency and their legislation is at least as strict as the Federal standard. With the EPA lowering their lead dust standards in 2020 below CDPH’s, the EPA standard effectively superseded CDPH’s, but ONLY in childcare facilities or residential housing – i.e., CDPH still maintained the lowest industry standard for public buildings even with the EPA’s new standard in effect. What CDPH has done with this announcement, then, is to apply these stricter standards aimed at the prevention of lead poisoning in children to essentially “anyone and everyone.”

With the increased number of businesses and facilities affected, could the potential impacts of the CDPH’s reduction be a double-edged sword? Reducing lead hazards IS of the utmost importance, but could the costs associated with reducing that last 30 µg/ft2 be a financial roadblock to some recovering businesses? Is it appropriate to hold a museum owner with a gallery full of 17th-century bronze statues to the same standards as a daycare center with Johnny eating Fruit Loops off of the kitchen floor?

Is your consultant talking to you about these recent changes and potential challenges?

Ryan Davidson, Senior Project Manager