Clinic News Archive

Lawsuit Gains Victory for Communities Battling Lead

Communities exposed to toxic lead emissions won an important victory in federal court Wednesday, September 14.  In a case filed by the Interdisciplinary Environmental Clinic on behalf of Leslie and Jack Warden, long-time residents of Herculaneum, Missouri, and the Missouri Coalition for the Environment, Judge Richard Webber ruled:

  • The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) "blatantly disregarded Congress' mandate that the lead NAAQS [National Ambient Air Quality Standard] be reviewed at five year intervals."
  • The EPA's proposed timeline for completing its long-overdue review of the lead NAAQS is too long, and "wholly defeats the mandate of Congress."
  • The EPA must complete the lead NAAQS review, with a series of interim deadlines beginning December 1, 2005, by no later than Sept 1, 2008. "The Court will not be inclined to grant extensions."
  • "Plaintiffs are entitled to reasonable attorney fees."

The EPA initially set the governing lead NAAQS in 1978, and has never revised it despite a requirement under the Clean Air Act that the agency review the federal standards every five years.  During the intervening years, the federal threshold for lead poisoning has dropped dramatically, and the World Health Organization published a substantially more protective standard for Europe. The EPA commenced the lead NAAQS review last November, after the Clinic filed the lawsuit. The agency will now have to expedite its schedule to meet the Court's tighter deadlines.

The Court's ruling holds particular significance for the community of Herculaneum, Missouri, where the nation's largest lead smelter has been operating since the 1890's. A substantial percentage of Herculaneum's children have been lead poisoned, and lead has contaminated many yards and streets. Although the air in Herculaneum finally came into compliance with the outdated lead air standard in late 2002 (except for a violation during the first quarter of 2005), officials predict that yards and streets that were previously cleaned will be recontaminated within the next 3-4 years. 

Lead is a toxic metal that can damage the health of people and animals when particles containing lead are ingested or inhaled.  Lead poisoning causes devastating and permanent health effects, particularly in infants and young children whose brains and bodies are developing.  Lead poisoning is associated with neurological damage, anemia, chronic kidney disease, and, in extreme cases, coma or death.  Exposure to lead, even at low levels, can decrease IQ, increase learning disabilities, and increase hyperactivity and related behavioral problems in children.

The Interdisciplinary Environmental Clinic's work on this case (dating back to the Spring 2004 semester) reflected the combined efforts of students in the Schools of Law, Arts & Sciences, Medicine, and Engineering.

Coalition Lawsuit Spurs Action by EPA: Agency to Begin Review of Outdated Standard for Airborne Lead

News Release from The Coalition for the Environment.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced on November 9, 2004 , that it has decided to undertake a review of its 26 year old standard for airborne lead.  The review was prompted by a lawsuit recently filed by the Missouri Coalition for the Environment and two of its members. 

The Coalition filed suit in May of this year to compel the EPA to review new scientific studies that show lead is even more harmful than previously understood.  Under the Clean Air Act, EPA is legally required to review such evidence at least every five years and decide whether to amend its air pollution regulations.  It has been nearly 15 years since EPA last reviewed its standard for airborne lead.  

“The evidence is overwhelming that the current standard is too lax,” said Ted Heisel, Executive Director of the Coalition.  “We hope EPA takes a hard look at this outdated standard and revises it accordingly.” 

Coalition members Leslie and Jack Warden, who for years lived a few blocks from the largest lead smelter in the country in Herculaneum , Missouri, joined the suit to help protect the health of those living in such communities.    

Lead is one of the most toxic substances to humans and serves no biological purpose in the human body.  Even at low levels, its presence in children can lead to reduced IQs, behavioral problems, nervous system damage and anemia.

The Missouri Coalition for the Environment is represented in this matter by the Washington University Interdisciplinary Environmental Clinic.  posted 11.18.04

Conservation Organizations Announce Settlement with Holcim $3 million marked for land preservation & regional air quality projects

Four local conservation organizations announced October 5th that they have reached a settlement with Holcim (U.S.) Inc. for $3 million, ending a four-year challenge to Holcim's efforts to construct a cement plant and limestone quarry in Ste. Genevieve County on the Mississippi River.  The four organizations are the American Bottom Conservancy of Illinois, the Missouri Coalition for the Environment, the Ozark Chapter of the Sierra Club, and the Webster Groves Nature Study Society.  The Interdisciplinary Environmental Clinic of Washington University Law School has provided legal representation to the four organizations.  

Big Rivers Water Quality Standards Petition

On behalf of the Ozark Chapter of the Sierra Club, the Interdisciplinary Environmental Clinic submitted a detailed petition to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to require upgraded and consistent water quality standards for the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers in an eight-state region in the Midwest.  Although the paucity of water quality monitoring data posed a significant obstacle, the Clinic gathered substantial evidence of the inadequacies and inconsistencies of the existing approach to setting and addressing water quality standards on interstate rivers.  The petition documents the insufficiently-protective and inconsistent manner in which states bordering these Big Rivers establish, monitor compliance with, and implement their water quality standards. The petition also highlights the EPA’s authority and obligation to require the states to coordinate and upgrade their efforts.

Herculaneum, Missouri: Interdisciplinary Environmental Clinic assisting residents in lead-contaminated city

Armed with legal strategies and scientific data, students in the School of Law's Interdisciplinary Environmental Clinic are actively involved in persuading the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to relocate families away from the lead-contaminated city of Herculaneum, Mo. The EPA recently decided to offer temporary relocation to some families in Herculaneum, a community plagued by contamination from the nation's largest lead smelter, operated by the Doe Run Co.

Working on behalf of the Missouri Coalition for the Environment and the St. Louis Lead Prevention Coalition, including both organizations' Herculaneum-based members, clinic students have been analyzing data demonstrating that the city is unsafe, indoors and outdoors, with extensive lead contamination of the homes, schools, yards, streets, and air, and with excessive lead poisoning among children. Law students along with students from Arts & Sciences and the School of Engineering and Applied Science have been working in interdisciplinary teams to marshal the legal arguments in support of first a temporary and then a permanent relocation of the Herculaneum residents.

Founded in January 2000, the Interdisciplinary Environmental Clinic is the only source of free legal and technical assistance to environmental and community organizations and low-income residents in the greater St. Louis area.