A large construction excavator removes contaminated soil from an urban brownfield development site.

Leading with Lead: EPA to Implement Strategy for Lead in 2024

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency kicked off the New Year by strengthening its guidance for investigating and cleaning up lead-contaminated soil at residential properties, especially in areas where children live and play. Toward this end, the EPA lowered the recommended screening levels for lead in residential soil, from 400 parts per million to 200 ppm, for the first time in 30 years. 

While screening levels are not cleanup standard, this change is expected to assist the EPA in making site-specific cleanup decisions, which may include risk factors and community input that could vary from site to site. Therefore, because of these lower screening levels, the EPA expects an increase in residential properties for potential cleanup under Superfund and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).

As a consequence of this new guidance, parties should be aware that it may trigger a reopener for Superfund and RCRA Corrective Action where remedial measures for lead have already been completed. Additionally, parties currently conducting CERCLA or RCRA Corrective Action responses in residential areas should anticipate additional requirements to investigate whether further remedial action is required for lead contamination. 

Notably, this new guidance is only one of many actions the EPA has planned for regulating lead. In fact, the EPA has outlined the following four goals for the 2024 fiscal year: (1) reduce community exposures to lead sources; (2) identify communities with high lead exposures and improve their health outcomes; (3) communicate more effectively with stakeholders; and (4) support and conduct critical research to inform efforts to reduce lead exposures and related health risks.

Although we anticipate the EPA to implement a number of policies and programs to meet each goal, we expect the EPA to take the following specific measures and milestones over the next couple of years: (1) update the Heavy Metals in Cultural Products: Outreach and Educational Resources Toolkit by September 2024; (2) take final action on the Dust-lead Hazard Standards and Dust-lead Clearance Levels Rule by October 2024; (3) take final action on the Lead and Copper Rule Improvements to strengthen the regulatory framework and address lead in drinking water by October 2024; (4) complete current lead National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) review by 2026; and (5) complete rulemakings for primary copper smelters, integrated iron and steel manufacturing, and large municipal waste combustors in 2024.

By outlining this series of ambitious measures and milestones, it is clear that the EPA is making lead a priority this year. Therefore, we can expect more guidance and rulemakings in the near future. Additionally, although the EPA’s guidance and recommended screening levels for lead in residential soil went into effect on January 17, the agency is still requesting public comment for further consideration in any future updates to the guidance by Mary 17.