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How the President’s Budget Impacts Healthy Housing

The National Center for Healthy Housing is saddened to see the priorities being presented by the president’s FY19 Federal Budget Request. We know that Congress can do better.

We believe most Americans care about health and that our budget should reflect that, but some of the core federal agency programs that work to keep us all healthier will be underfunded or canceled under the president’s latest proposal. Below are just the programs that NCHH tracks and reports on to advocates and policy makers regularly; many more are also on the chopping block in the president’s budget.

Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)

  • Office of Lead Hazard Control and Healthy Homes: The president’s budget is $145 million; our request is $230 million. The $145 million is the same as the 2017 request and lower than the Senate’s FY18 number of $160 million. As our understanding of the impact of exposure and the cost-effectiveness of investing in eliminating lead hazards grows, certainly the funding that works to thwart lead exposure and hazards should be keeping pace.
    • Within this program, the president’s budget removes $5 million from the healthy homes account—from $30 million to $25 million—and redistributes those funds to the lead account. 
  • CDBG and HOME: The president’s budget zeroes out these programs, which provide vital services to low-income and underserved populations across the country. The Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program alone feeds into myriad programs across the states that effect the health and well-being of Americans of all ages.
Learn more about HUD’s valuable programs and services with NCHH’s new Healthy Homes Agency Fact Sheet

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

  • Eliminates Indoor Air and Radon Programs. We request level funding for these programs. 
    • Indoor Air: Radon, previously funded at $2.91 million.
    • Reduce Risk from Indoor Air, previously funded at $13.733 million.
  • Eliminates Lead and Radon Categorical Grants. We request level funding for these programs. 
    • Radon Categorical Grant: previously funded at $8.051 million.
    • Lead Categorical Grant: previously funded at $14.049 million. 
  • Eliminates the Lead Risk Reduction Program, which was previously funded at $13.275 million; we request level funding for this program
    • Lead paint certifications will continue, through the Chemical Risk Review and Reduction Program, but this program is also getting a minor cut. 
    • The budget states that “Other forms of lead exposure are addressed through other targeted programs, such as the State Revolving Funds, to replace lead pipes.” 1 
  • Decreases the Children and Other Sensitive Populations program, under Information Exchange/Outreach, from $6.548 million to $2.081 million. We request level funding for this program.

Learn more about EPA’s valuable programs and services with NCHH’s new Healthy Homes Agency Fact Sheet.
 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – Environmental Health 

Learn more about CDC’s valuable programs and services with NCHH’s new Healthy Homes Agency Fact Sheet. NCHH has also created a fact sheet for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which is CDC’s parent agency.

Other Impacted Line Items

A Note on the Impact of the President’s Budget on State Funding

A note about how these changes would directly impact state budgets: NCHH tracks 11 grant/funding programs on our state healthy housing fact sheets. Between the eliminations and cuts at HHS, CDC, HUD, EPA, and DOE, this budget cuts or eliminates at least seven of them (eight if you count the expiring CDC lead money as a cut). 

The president and his administration have identified their priorities in this new budget. We'll do all we can to convince Congress of the necessity and cost-effective return on investment of these reduced or eliminated programs and implore Congress to restore programs to present funding levels or increase funding, as well as continue to work to educate the administration about what these programs do to have impact on the long-term health of the entire country. If you'd like to join us in that effort, please join our distribution list

1 One wonders how eliminating this program and the state grants supports Administrator Pruitt’s statement to other federal agencies that “All areas of lead exposure – from lead pipes to contaminated soil – need to be pursued and addressed in a comprehensive and consistent approach” (from the invitation to the principal’s meeting).



Citations:

CDC FY19 Budget Documents 
EPA FY19 Budget Documents 
All of our FY18 request numbers and justifications live here



Darcy Scott,
NCHH Senior Policy Adviser, has been engaged in federal advocacy efforts for over 15 years. She has worked with a number of large-scale organizations, such as the ACLU and Susan G. Komen for the Cure, to influence legislators through public engagement. Ms. Scott ran the government affairs department at M+R Strategic Services, leveraging the power of organizations and coalitions to influence the legislative process, and her consulting clients include Habitat for Humanity International and United Way Worldwide. Ms. Scott holds an undergraduate degree from Southern Methodist University and a graduate degree from Northwestern University. 

Sarah Goodwin joined NCHH as a Policy Analyst in June 2017. She previously served NCHH as a policy intern, helping to establish and run the Find It, Fix It, Fund It lead action drive and its work groups. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Interdisciplinary Studies: Communications, Legal Institutions, Economics, and Government from American University.

Introducing NCHH's Healthy Housing Fact Sheets: EPA Region 1

Think about your home community. What makes it special? What specific challenges does it face? I’m sure, if given the chance, we could all go on at length about the individuality in the places we live and work. Those of us doing policy work at national organizations spend much of our time focused on the big picture, but the healthy housing needs of each state are unique and varied. We are far more effective as an advocacy community when we remember to take advantage of the perspective and challenges each state brings.

That’s why the National Center for Healthy Housing has created 53 state healthy housing profiles – including the District of Columbia and an overview of the whole U.S. – for use by policy makers and advocates across the country. Each fact sheet offers eight statistics about the healthy housing situation in each state, covering topics including asthma prevalence and financial burden, childhood lead poisoning numbers and age of housing, radon levels, carbon monoxide fatalities, and unintentional falls among older adults. The fact sheets also tell you which of 11 programs at CDCHUD, and EPA are currently funding your state efforts. Most information was found from federal or state governments, and each fact is hyperlinked back to the source material.

EPA Region 1

Throughout 2018, we’re posting highlights of our state fact sheets by EPA region, one region per month. In January, we’re starting off with EPA Region 1: Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont.

  • It’s well known among the healthy housing community that the Northeast typically has older housing stock than other parts of the country, and that is one of the first things that sticks out among these six states. Between 55% and 73% of housing in each state was built before lead paint was outlawed in 1978; 20-30% was built before 1940.
  • In 2015, the combined regional total of blood lead level tests over 5 µg/dL, the CDC action level, was 9,148. Forty percent (40%) of New Hampshire children are estimated to have had elevated blood lead levels at some point in their lives.
  • The region also shares high predicted and tested radon levels. In Connecticut, one in five homes has elevated radon; in Maine and New Hampshire, this number is nearly one in three. An estimated 628 cases of radon-related lung cancer occur in Massachusetts each year.
  • Rhode Island has the highest proportion of residents 85 and older in the U.S. at 15.8%, and nearly one in four Rhode Islanders are over 65. Risk of falling is a particular healthy housing issue for older adults. For example, hospital charges for unintentional falls among older adults totaled over $630 million in Massachusetts in 2010.
  • Another medical expense that has proved costly to the region is emergency asthma treatment. In 2014, Connecticut spent $135 million on acute care where asthma was the primary diagnosis; in 2012, Rhode Island spent $21 million on asthma hospitalizations.
  • The region also boasts some healthy housing milestones. Vermont was the first state to lower its definition of elevated blood lead levels to 5 µg/dL. This legislation was passed in 2008.
  • Maine was one of 14 states and localities that benefited from the additional funding for CDC’s Lead Poisoning Prevention program passed in December 2016.

Other NCHH Resources

NCHH’s state fact sheets will be updated annually with current information. For questions or comments, please email Laura Fudala at lfudala@nchh.org.


 


Sarah Goodwin joined NCHH as a Policy Analyst in June 2017. She previously served NCHH as a policy intern, helping to establish and run the Find It, Fix It, Fund It lead action drive and its workgroups. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Interdisciplinary Studies: Communications, Legal Institutions, Economics, and Government from American University.

New Senate Bill Would Weaken Existing Protections from Unscrupulous Overseas Suppliers, Putting Public and U.S. Manufacturers at Risk

Senate Bill 697 as introduced in March 2015 to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) contains a provision that threatens the public’s health by weakening protections that are currently in place.

Strong public health standards are important, but they mean little without an effective program to ensure compliance. Worse, they put firms that play by the rules at a competitive disadvantage. When it comes to hazards that are difficult to recognize, such as water damage, lead-based paint, food contaminants, and chemical risks, the firm that cuts corners, whether a landlord, a painting contractor, or a retailer, has an unfair edge in the marketplace. Unfortunately, all too often, the health of the most vulnerable among us suffer the consequences.

Congress made compliance assurance a top priority when it added Title VI to the TSCA in 2010 to federalize California’s strict standards for formaldehyde emissions from composite wood products. The industry leaders and public health advocates (including NCHH) who convinced Congress to act knew that California lacked the tools to regulate imports effectively. They saw that, while TSCA was too weak to set strong public health standards, the law provided the means both to ensure compliance and to provide a level playing field for U.S. manufacturers. Violators were subject to civil and criminal punishment under sections 16 and 17. Citizens, states, and competitors could enforce the law under Section 20 if the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) didn’t. And, just as importantly, rules adopted pursuant to Section 13 of TSCA require that importers had to certify—essentially guarantee—that the products they imported complied with the law.
 
This import certification provided the means for the agency and the public to hold the importer responsible, leveraging the firm’s cooperation in an investigation of the supply chain to expose the culprit. It also provided a strong incentive for the importer to be vigilant in selecting trustworthy suppliers and verifying compliance using the finished product enforcement testing method incorporated into California’s formaldehyde regulation.

The wisdom of this approach became clear in March when CBS’s 60 Minutes used California’s enforcement test method to show that laminated flooring imported from China by Lumber Liquidators did not comply with the state’s standards. The 60 Minutes research went beyond those deconstructive tests and demonstrated that the sample flooring exceeded California’s health standards for formaldehyde in a typical home setting using another test method developed by the California Department of Public Health.

Unfortunately, EPA did not meet the January 1, 2013, congressional deadline for the agency to promulgate the rules. The agency does not expect to finalize the rules until the end of 2015, and they would not go into effect until late 2016. Without final rules, Lumber Liquidators was under no obligation to make an import certification under TSCA Section 13.

An additional problem arose when senators Tom Udall (D, NM) and David Vitter (R, LA) introduced S. 697 (the "Udall-Vitter Reform Bill") in March 2015. Unless changes are made in the final version, the bill would render TSCA Section 13 a paper tiger. Instead of guaranteeing compliance, importers would only need to a make a “reasonable inquiry” and certify compliance to their “best knowledge and belief” (proposed TSCA Section 13(b)(2)). For articles like flooring, a “reasonable inquiry” consists of a “good faith reliance by an importer on a certification by the supplier that the imported article satisfies the applicable certification requirements” (proposed TSCA Section 13(b)(3)(B)). The proposed import certification provision would make it much more difficult for EPA to ensure that imported products comply with the law and that U.S. manufacturers share equal footing.
 
The best solution is to strengthen TSCA without weakening Section 13.

Formaldehyde and Wood Products

Chinese manufacturing companies have again exported unsafe products into the U.S. On March 1, a 60 Minutes exposé brought back memories of 2005, when thousands of people displaced by Hurricane Katrina suffered from high formaldehyde emissions in the trailers that the federal government provided for them.
 
The 60 Minutes report revealed that low-cost laminated flooring, purchased from Lumber Liquidators stores around the country, released extremely high levels of formaldehyde that off-gas from the cured glue used to make the fiberboard in the flooring. All but one of the samples from China failed the emissions tests, with some readings as much as 20 times California’s standards. In contrast, the samples from North America all passed. On hidden camera, 60 Minutes filmed workers in three Chinese manufacturing facilities admitting that they knew the wood going to Lumber Liquidators flooring did not comply with the so-called “CARB 2” standards.

When NCHH, Sierra Club, and industry leaders (especially the Composite Panel Association), partnered in 2008 to nationalize California’s tough emission standards for wood products, they recognized the problem and knew that a federal law was essential to ensure compliance by foreign companies importing products to the U.S., as well as to ensure enforceability throughout our nation.
 
Led by Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Senator Mike Crapo (R-ID), and Representative Doris Matsui (D-CA), Congress passed the Formaldehyde Standards for Composite Wood Products Act in the summer of 2010, amending the Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA). Congress acted in a bipartisan manner to protect consumer health and level the playing field between U.S. wood product manufacturers and their offshore competitors.
 
In that legislation, Congress directed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to issue final rules by the end of 2012, with the rules to be effective a year later. EPA issued proposed rules in June 2013; however, we are still waiting on EPA to issue the final rules 26 months after the deadline.

As a practical matter, the initial deadline was unrealistic for an agency struggling with funding cuts and other pressures. The record shows that EPA waited a year for the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to complete its 90-day review. OMB only released the rule after EPA revised its cost-benefit analysis to remove $250 million in estimated annual benefits resulting from 21,000 fewer children developing asthma. Another year was lost when many in the industry strenuously objected to EPA’s science-based decision to go beyond the California Air Resource Board (CARB) requirements – as Congress had authorized– and require third-party testing and certification not only by wood panel producers, as is already required by California, but also by laminators of wood products.

At each step of the process, NCHH sought to move the issue forward. In collaboration with other public interest groups, we submitted comments on the proposed emission standards and alerted EPA that “third-party” auditors in China may be cutting corners. In May 2014, NCHH proposed a compromise to the EPA-industry dispute over testing and certification requirements for laminators. And we called for testing of the finished product so that regulators could verify compliance.

The 60 Minutes story illustrates how critical it is that EPA act and issue its rules implementing the national standard on formaldehyde emissions from composite wood products. Representative Kurt Schrader of Oregon pressed the EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy at a February 25 hearing. In a March 3 letter to Ms. McCarthy, congressional sponsors called for prompt issuance of the final rule. The next day, Senator Ben Nelson (D-FL) reinforced the call, asking for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Federal Trade Commission, and Consumer Products Safety Commission to work with EPA and investigate the issue as the agencies did with the Chinese drywall problems several years ago.

Indeed, it’s time for EPA to act and for the White House to make sure that OMB doesn’t cause more delays. Just as importantly, it’s critical that EPA get the regulation right and do everything possible to keep the situation that reported by 60 Minutes from happening again. Our recent history with these unscrupulous Chinese companies shows that we should be prepared for more cheating. EPA must provide mechanisms to catch these cheaters. This includes third-party, verifiably independent testing and certification, as well as a means to randomly deconstruct and test wood products sold into the U.S. consumer market. To date, EPA has declined to adopt the latter for the national rules, even though California is committed to it. Without such testing, 60 Minutes could not have made clear that Chinese laminated flooring was mislabeled as CARB 2-compliant and emitted dangerously high amounts of formaldehyde, far beyond the bounds of California’s regulations.

EPA's Formaldehyde and Composite Wood Products rule is important for American consumers and especially for the children who are most vulnerable to irritation and toxic exposure. Its implementation is expected to prevent tens of thousands of children from developing asthma and will level the playing field for North American manufacturers that produce safer, compliant products. EPA needs to hold its ground and finally promulgate – and be able to enforce – effective standards for laminators of composite wood products.


UPDATE (May 3): The New York Times interviewed NCHH's Tom Neltner for an article about the EPA's regulation of formaldehyde. Read it here.

UPDATE (May 8): NCHH's Tom Neltner appeared on a CBS News segment about the Lumber Liquidators controversy. Watch it here.

EPA Safer Choices

Bewildered by the vast number of cleaning products available when shopping online or in your local supermarket? Today, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a way to narrow your choices of products so you make your home healthier. Just look for the “Safer Choice” logo on the product. Use EPA’s search engine to check whether your favorite brand carries the label.

If you’re worried about fragrances irritating your eyes or lungs, look for labels with "Fragrance Free" in the upper left corner. Unlike products advertised as “unscented,” which contain masking fragrances to hide the chemical smell, these products are what they claim to be – fragrance-free.

The logo replaces the cumbersome "Design for the Environment” ("DfE") logo that you may have seen on some products in recent years. EPA’s action comes just over a year after Walmart committed to having all of its private brand cleaning products meet the DfE (now Safer Choice) standards by January 2015. 

So, how do you know the Safer Choice products are actually safer? EPA requires that manufacturers disclose all ingredients, including fragrances, to a third party who ensures that the products meet the agency’s strict criteria for safety and performance. It also sets packaging standards and bans fragrances that government agencies in the U.S. and Europe have identified as carcinogens, reproductive toxins, or sensitizers. And, in a relatively new feature, it audits the products for compliance. 

Finally, EPA enables you to make your own decision about safety by requiring that makers of Safer Choice-labeled products disclose all ingredients on the company’s website and reference the Web page on the product label. With this option, if you’re worried about a particular ingredient, you can make sure it’s not in the product. 

Note that there is an important limit to disclosure. To balance trade secret concerns for fragrances, EPA allows companies to provide a list of chemicals used across their various brands, rather than revealing the specific ingredients of a single product. If you want to know what the ingredients are in a single product, your only option appears to be S.C. Johnson. It’s the only firm we know of that goes a step beyond EPA’s labeling standards and names all of the ingredients in each product.

So, next time you’re shopping for cleaning products, look for EPA’s Safer Choice logo for a healthier home.

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