The lead loophole that DNREC must fix

We know lead is dangerous. Ingesting lead causes neurological damage, resulting in behavioral and learning disabilities that ruin children’s lives. It’s so dangerous that it was banned from indoor paint in 1978 and was phased out of gasoline through the 1980s and 1990s. There are no safe levels of exposure to lead, exposure to any amount is dangerous. There is no way to reverse the damage caused by lead. Yet in Delaware, a loophole exists which allows lead to be sandblasted off water towers in close proximity to schools, daycare centers, parks and homes without any state oversight or community notification.

Water towers can contain layers of lead paint applied over decades. When these water towers are sandblasted, no one is making sure that lead particles and dust are not contaminating the air that children breathe, the soil where children live and play, or where vegetables are grown. No one is checking to make sure that health and safety procedures are followed. No one is monitoring the process at all. Companies that sandblast lead paint are not even required to notify the neighbors about the lead, which is a hazardous waste.

I discovered the lead exemption loophole last summer when a Suez water utility employee knocked on my front door and told me that they would be sandblasting the water tank directly next to my home. “It will be loud,” he said. I asked if the paint they were removing had lead in it. “Yes, they will be removing lead.” (He noted that no one ever asks this question.) Over the course of the next six months, I was alarmed that there is no state oversight required in any way for such projects. There is no oversight from the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) and no oversight from the Department of Public Health. I found that lead, a potent toxic and hazardous material, can be sandblasted from a water tower less than 100 feet from my home without notification, oversight or monitoring. And it isn’t just happening in my backyard. Once you look for water towers, you will see them everywhere.

There are at least 159 water tanks in Delaware. There could be more. Nobody keeps track of them, or whether they have lead paint, so there are a lot of unknowns.

The Secretary of DNREC was petitioned beginning

in January, and again in March, to remove this regulatory exemption. A new process of permitting does not need to be invented. We are asking that the exemption of sandblasting of outdoor structures (including water towers) be removed so that the existing permitting structure can apply.

Since our petition was first submitted in January, I am shocked and appalled that two new projects have begun. One is located at People’s Plaza on Route 40, and the other on Concord Pike in Talleyville. Both water towers are next to sports facilities where children play.

The water tower at People’s Plaza is less than 500 feet from the pitcher’s mound of a little league baseball field. The water tower on Concord Pike is less than 300 feet from a daycare facility and less than 800 feet from a swimming pool and a baseball field. If these water towers contain lead paint, the children that use these facilities are all at risk of exposure.

Our children deserve the opportunity for fulfilling productive lives that are not burdened by childhood exposure to lead paint because the state of Delaware exempted the sandblasting of outdoor structures from regulations. Regulations intended to protect the health and safety of Delaware’s children.

It is disappointing that neither the prior, nor current, DNREC secretary has yet to respond to our petition or even acknowledge that he has received it. You can help by contacting DNREC Secretary Shawn Garvin, and your elected officials, and ask for the lead exemption loophole for sandblasting outdoor structures to be removed to protect the health and safety of our communities.

Sarah B. Bucic has been a registered nurse since 2001 and has a master’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania in Psychiatric Mental Health Nursing. She also holds board certification as an adult psychiatric mental health clinical nurse specialist.

DELAWARE VOICE

SARAH B. BUCIC

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