Healthy Housing Connections June 2010

Over 90 organizations descended on Washington, DC for the National Safe and Healthy Housing Coalition’s first annual meeting. The level of enthusiasm was terrific. The meeting was timely given Senator Collins' simultaneous introduction of a bill intended to delay the Environmental Protection Agency’s Renovation, Repair and Painting rule (RRP), a long awaited rulemaking that became effective in April. Coalition members visited with Congressional members and staff, participated in briefings in the Senate and the House of Representatives, and joined afternoon “salons” where we shared policy ideas and strategies. We heard from the White House’s Nikki Buffa about major initiatives on the horizon, such as chemical policy reform and green jobs legislation, and major energy efficiency initiatives—all of which offer useful vehicles for healthy housing legislation and policy. We heard from HUD’s Stockton Williams who helped us connect our healthy housing agenda to sustainability efforts.

The Collins’ amendment proved to have a negligible impact legislatively, yet it likely triggered EPA’s Enforcement Office to revamp its schedule for implementation of the RRP rule. Delays in enforcement of the rule's certification deadlines, announced on June 18, demonstrated that EPA has been beaten back by Congressional overreactions to industry claims about an alleged lack of training opportunities. Interestingly, new research by a grassroots lead safety campaign found that only about 5% of the National Association of Homebuilders membership has received the requisite RRP training. It would appear that NAHB’s effort to delay the rule’s implementation is having a chilling effect on their members' willingness to come forward for training. This is in sharp contrast to weatherization contractors for example, a sector in which the majority of contractors have now been trained in lead safe work practices. As of June 22, 2010, EPA has accredited 254 training providers who have conducted more than 16,000 courses, training an estimated 320,000 people in the construction and remodeling industries to use lead-safe work practices.

The debacle surrounding the passage and implementation of the RRP rule makes one thing crystal clear—without an organized and effective advocacy community, children’s voices will be drowned out by industry concerns, even in the best political scenario. While calls and visits to Congressional staff may seem pro forma and largely inconsequential, the fact is that with elections around the corner, there is a heightened sensitivity to constituent concerns, and one conversation can make a difference. Organizing the advocacy community also helps to keep  misinformation at bay by ensuring that politicians, partners, and industry groups get the facts about the problem and the solutions.

While the enforcement delays announced by EPA seem like a setback to many of us, continuing efforts to advance healthy housing in neighborhoods all over the US and the groundswell of support from national and grassroots organizations that occurred during our National Safe and Healthy Housing Coalition meeting affirm the nationwide commitment to children’s environmental health. Together, we will soon achieve the same success on healthy housing that we’ve seen over the last two decades on lead poisoning prevention.

In this Issue:
National Safe and Healthy Housing Coalition holds first annual meeting
The GREAT Study Kicks Off
EPA Delays RRP Enforcement
EPA Publishes Draft IRIS Toxicological Review of Formaldehyde
Congress Passes Formaldehyde Standards for Composite Wood Products Act
Lead Poisoning Tips Handout
Healthy Housing in the News

Main Feature

First Annual National Safe and Healthy Housing Coalition Meeting
The National Safe and Healthy Housing Coalition, which has already grown to 90-plus member organizations, held its first annual meeting on May 24 and 25 in Washington, DC. The two-day meeting included time for Hill visits by Coalition members and presentations by key government officials, including Jon Gant, Director of HUD’s Office of Healthy Homes, and Stockton Williams, Senior Advisor in HUD’s Office of Sustainable Housing and Communities. The second day was primarily dedicated to an evaluation of the Coalition’s FY2010 policy goals and discussion of its priorities for FY2011.

The Coalition has agreed to continue to pursue its FY2010 goals, notably the passage of the Safe and Healthy Housing Act and the Code Administration Act. In addition, it solidified its commitment to three core themes that characterize the effort to mainstream healthy homes: The need for enforcing housing standards; the need for well-targeted resources for prevention and capacity building; and the opportunity in 2010-2011 to synchronize energy efficiency programs with public health goals. The meeting participants attended three salons focused on these themes, and the discussions were thoughtful and substantive.

In the Codes and Standards salon, Coalition members agreed that FY2011 priorities include amending the Safe Chemicals Act to include standards for building materials, and amending Home Star legislation to require EPA minimum standards for health and safety. Attendees of the Financing Healthy Housing salon discussed the need to identify current opportunities to reserve Healthy Homes funding from programs at HUD, and the possibility of bringing improved Housing Quality Standards (HQS) indoor air quality and dust requirements to National Housing Trust Fund units. Providing incentives for people who make healthy homes work a way of doing business, as well as states that coordinate healthy housing work, were also noted as important goals in the Financing salon. The participants of the Integrating Energy Efficiency and Healthy Housing Salon agreed it would be helpful to establish a universal standard for what is meant by "healthy homes" for federal agencies such as HUD, EPA, DOE, and their various programs, such as HomeStar, Weatherization Assistance, and Recovery through Retrofit. Similarly, Energy Efficiency salon participants recommended a universal standard for energy retrofits to integrate into programs that are conventionally described as related to “healthy homes”.

Further information on the National Safe and Healthy Housing Coalition as well as specific policy initiatives can be found on NCHH’s website.


The GREAT Study Kicks Off

At a June 8th press conference in Mankoto, MN, NCHH kicked off its GREAT (Green Rehabilitation Elder Apartment Treatments) study with partners University of Minnesota Center for Sustainable Building Research, Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership, Case Western Reserve University, and Mankato Economic Development Agency. The project will be the first in the nation to evaluate specific health outcomes among older Americans following rehabilitation using green healthy housing methods. Modeled after a project recently completed in Worthington, Minnesota, the study is expected to show that building improvements related to green rehab of housing for the elderly results in health benefits.

The site to be rehabilitated consists of 101 public housing units designated for the elderly located at Orness Plaza in Mankato, MN. The improvements, already funded separately by HUD and others, will comply with the Enterprise Green Community Criteria as adapted by Minnesota, which includes standards for eight areas of housing renovation, including integrated design process, location and neighborhood fabric, site, water conservation, energy conservation, materials and resources, healthy living environment, and operations and management.


EPA Delays RRP Enforcement

As a result of pressure from contractors and lawmakers, the EPA has delayed its enforcement of the RRP rule until October 1, 2010. This disappointing move is a clear step back from the agency’s prior hard-lined position of full implementation. The healthy housing community has expressed its frustration that the training concerns raised by Senate staffers could not be resolved in a less sweeping manner, especially as the EPA was not able to demonstrate with data that many of the training capacity concerns are unfounded. Reports have indicated that in several situations where training capacity was listed as an issue, sponsors found as many as four hosted classes with 80 student capacity and only eight students signing up or showing up. Advocates agree that a delay will not help these classes become full, but underwriting the cost of training and increasing contractor awareness of the course offerings would go a long way toward filling classes.

The EPA’s action delays enforcement of the firm certification requirement until Oct. 1, which gives firms several extra months to pay the required $300 to receive their firm certifications. This delay will make it much more difficult to hold firms accountable for following the rule's requirements. It also delays enforcement against individual renovators, provided they sign up for training by September 30 and complete that training by December 31.

The memo does not, however, delay the enforcement of the rule's work practice requirements. If someone is using unsafe work practices or not following the work practice protocols, regardless of whether they have had training, they are breaking the law and enforcement can be brought against them. Tips and complaints can be reported to EPA's regional offices.

Finally, the action does not pre-empt the states who have already adopted their own programs: OR, NC, MS, RI, IA, WI, UT, KS. NCHH is hopeful that additional states will adopt programs and are advocating for more federal funding to incentivize state adoption.

EPA Publishes Draft IRIS Toxicological Review of Formaldehyde
EPA recently published its draft IRIS Toxicological Review of Formaldehyde - Inhalation Assessment. In its review, the EPA found formaldehyde to cause asthma and to be a carcinogen. It also cited some disturbing reproductive impacts.

Congress Passes Formaldehyde Standards for Composite Wood Products Act
The Formaldehyde Standards for Composite Wood Products Act passed the U.S. Senate on June 14 and the House on June 23, and is currently awaiting the President’s signature to become law. This represents a significant milestone in efforts to enact a national standard for formaldehyde emissions from industry products.

Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Representative Doris Matsui (D-CA) were leaders on the legislation. Sen. Klobuchar stated, "The bill will establish national standards that will both protect public health and ensure an even playing field between domestic wood products and foreign imports."

A broad coalition of industry, public advocacy groups, and others supported passage of this bill and worked on its behalf since last spring. NCHH Executive Director Rebecca Morley calls the bill a “big win for consumers, for public health, and for responsible manufacturers” and says it “will give the EPA clear guidance and firm deadlines for action."


Lead Poisoning Tips Handout
Generated by AMERIGROUP Community Care, a useful Lead Poisoning Tips handout has been posted on NCHH’s Resources page. The handout is available in English, Spanish, Creole, and Arabic.

Healthy Housing In the News

NPR: Home Contractors Brace for Lead Paint Rules
CNN: Keeping Your Home Healthy

Be sure to follow NCHH on Twitter!