December 18, 1998
OPPT Document Control Officer (7407)
RE: Docket control number OPPTS-62156D
I believe that U.S. EPA's proposed rule, "Lead; Identification of Danger Levels of Lead," 40 CFR Part 745, as published in the Federal Register, June 3, 1998, as it pertains to acceptable levels of lead contamination in residential soil, is fundamentally flawed.
I do not have the time, expertise, or inclination to comment on all the technical aspects of the proposed rule, but I believe that ARC Ecology, in its October 22, 1998 submission, has done an excellent job of identifying the weaknesses, and in a few places, the strengths, of the proposed rule.
The fundamental problem in the proposed rule is that it tries to calculate an aggregate economic cost and benefit for different soil standards. These calculations are subject to enormous uncertainty, and they undermine the purpose of establishing a health-based lead-in-soil concentration standard.
Many of the sources of uncertainty are obvious. Data on lead-in-soil contamination is sparse. The costs of remediation vary enormously with site conditions. The consequences of lead exposure, such as developmental disorders, are difficult to monetize. How does one calculate the pain and suffering of a family in which children suffer seriously disabilities as the result of lead paint exposure? How does one place a dollar value on the cost to society of accommodating a new generation of lead-disabled children?
Purposes of a Health-Based Standard
A credible health-based standard, developed independently of economic factors, would accomplish the following. (From the preamble to the proposed rule, it appears that 400 parts per million, measured at each point where risk management is under consideration, may be a reasonable level for these purposes. But on this I am prepared to defer to the toxicologists and other health experts.)
The various statutes that govern environmental response establish mechanisms for weighing long- and short-term effectiveness against the financial and other costs of response. Many of these mechanisms, such as the nine criteria in the National Contingency Plan, are good as far as they go, but decision-makers still lack the analytical tools they need to weigh cost vs. protectiveness. No one wants to waste money on actions that do little to protect public health, but we need a new model for applying health standards in a way that facilitates the selection of cost-effective remedial strategies.
In my enclosed paper, "Reducing Risk," I proposed a new paradigm for considering cost and effectiveness. This approach grows from my experience with hazardous waste cleanups under CERCLA [the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act] and discussions surrounding the implementation of the proposed Range Rule to govern the response to unexploded ordnance hazards, but it is equally applicable to responses under TSCA [the Toxic Substances Control Act] to the contamination of soil with lead paint.
The core of this approach is to estimate (and present in graphical form) at each site the cost effectiveness, measured in risk reduction per dollar, of each remedial alternative under consideration. All other factors being equal, the most cost effective remedy would be selected. (Of course, since other factors are seldom equal for all remedial alternatives, the advantages of the most cost-effective remedy would be weighed against the advantages, resulting from other factors, of competing options.)
Since the cost-effectiveness of each remedy may vary over the life of the project, it may be possible to begin with interim remedies that are cost effective in the short run, move to long-term remedies as they become more cost effective, and to hold off on final action until more efficient innovative technologies are found.
The principal advantages of this approach is that it is designed to avoid spending large amounts of money achieving very little risk reduction. In the case of soil pollution from lead paint, it would encourage quick cleanup at sections of contaminated property with particularly high levels of lead, while encouraging containment or access controls in other areas. (This suggests, of course, that point analysis, not averaging across the entire property, is the best way to assess lead contamination for the purpose of cost-effectiveness.)
If the risk reduction curve flattens out under any chosen remedial option, expenditures could be postponed, subject to recurring review, to determine whether more cost effective solutions (with sharper risk reduction slopes) are available. This would continue until the health-based standard -- in this case, 400 part per million of lead at each point in the soil -- is reached or permanent actions have been taken to prevent human exposure to the residual levels of lead above the regulatory standard.
The Key Decision
I am not suggesting that EPA adopt my particular methodology. It's new. It needs refinement. It has not yet been subject to peer review. The key decision today is that cost-benefit analysis must be conducted on a site-specific basis, as part of risk management, not built into a permanent health standard. Under EPA's proposed rule, many children (and others) would be exposed to unacceptably high levels of lead contamination even though, based upon a typical distribution of costs -- a bell curve, for example -- remediation at a large fraction of those sites could be accomplished in a cost effective way.