WASHINGTON (October 16, 2008) –For the first time since 1978, the EPA revised the national air ambient quality standard for lead air pollution, a toxin threatening the health of millions of children and adults. The revised standard of 0.15 micrograms per cubic meter is consistent with the advice of EPA scientific advisers and the public health community and is a big step forward toward protecting children’s health, according to experts at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).
Following is a statement from Dr. Gina Solomon, senior scientist with NRDC’s health program, concerning EPA's updated lead standard:
“We commend EPA for taking a giant step in the right direction, but they need to greatly expand the lead monitoring network if they hope to enforce this new standard. The EPA has followed the advice of its own advisers and public health advocates to set a more stringent standard for airborne lead. However, this administration has dismantled half of the air monitoring stations across the country. With less than 200 air lead monitors nationwide, scientists don’t even know how much lead is in the air in most communities. Now that the EPA has recognized the severity of lead exposure, it must rebuild the monitoring network. Furthermore, EPA must place air monitors at the locations where they matter most – downwind of the big polluters. EPA’s plan for only 236 new or relocated monitors is not adequate to detect problems, since there are thousands of serious lead polluters nationwide.
“I am disappointed that EPA will allow averaging of 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.”
In May, EPA proposed a range of new standards, between 0.1 and 0.3 micrograms per cubic meter of air, and took comments for the 0.5 level, despite warnings from its official outside scientific advisers that any level over 0.2 fails to protect public health. In fact, prominent lead researchers and nearly 200 medical and public health professionals recommend much lower levels -- as low as 0.02. The battery smelting industry lobbied for the 0.5 micrograms per cubic meter level or higher, putting children at serious risk.
Lead is a dangerous neurotoxin that has been banned from gasoline and paint, after decades of research demonstrated the public health threats to children. Still, as many as 16,000 industrial facilities in the United States continue operating under the old standard, pumping hundreds of thousands of pounds of lead into our air every year. The lead smelters that melt old batteries are among the worst lead polluters.