The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has tightened the regulations for airborne lead particles.
This is the first change to lead regulations in 30 years and follows the agency’s scientific advisers warning that the maximum allowable concentration should be one-tenth of the previous standard.
It also follows a federal lawsuit that set a deadline for action this week.
The new lead emissions are 0.15 ug/m3 (micrograms per cubic meter of air), down from 1.5 micrograms. The outer limit from the advisers was 0.2 micrograms.
The states have five years to meet these new standards. Within three years, the EPA will designate areas that must take additional steps to reduce lead emissions.
Lead will have to be monitored in 101 cities across the country and near sources that release at least a ton per year.
But the EPA has only half as many monitoring stations today as in the past. In 1980, there were 800 monitors nationwide. The EPA plans to locate 236 new or relocated monitors.
Gina Solomon of the Natural Resources Defense Council says that’s not adequate, “since there are thousands of serious lead polluters nationwide.”
The NRDC was also concerned that the EPA will allow companies to average lead exposures over a three-month period. "That means that large but brief 'spikes' of lead emissions from smelters and other polluters could contaminate the soil of playgrounds and backyards even in some areas that are in attainment of the new standard," Solomon said in a statement.
The EPA says lead emissions have dropped nearly 97 percent since 1980.
In its news statement, the EPA fails to mention that it acted after a lawsuit by the Missouri Coalition for the Environment resulted in a federal court deadline to be met this week.
The Coalition sued on behalf of two former residents of Herculaneum, Missouri, the home of the last lead smelter in the U.S. which was accused of repeatedly violating the emissions standards for lead. The blood of children from the area showed elevated concentrations of the toxic metal.
The agency’s administrator, Stephen L. Johnson, said in a statement, “With these stronger standards, a new generation of Americans are being protected from harmful lead emissions.”
The Natural Resources Defense Council commends the new standards as “a great step in the right direction.”
The NRDC says that as many as 16,000 industrial facilities in the U.S. continue to operate under the old standards of lead emissions. Lead battery recycles are among the worst lead polluters and more than 100 million car batteries are recycled annually. Utilities, cement kilns, and metalworking shops also emit airborne lead.
The dangerous neurotoxin has been banned from paint and gasoline, but can still be found in the blood in children in older cities such as Philadelphia, Providence and Cleveland.
Lead toxicity in children is associated with impaired learning and IQ loss, and neural development in infants.
In adults, lead is associated with cardiovascular disease and premature death. #