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EPA: Most areas are meeting air quality standards for lead

November 11, 2011
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childrenThe U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has determined that 39 states are meeting the health-based national air quality standards for lead set in 2008. Based on 2008 to 2010 air quality monitoring data, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan and Puerto Rico each have only one area that does not meet the agency’s health based standards for lead.

Lead emitted into the air can be inhaled or can be ingested after it settles. (Ingestion is the main route of human exposure). Children are the most susceptible because they are more likely to ingest lead, and their bodies are developing rapidly. Exposure to lead may impair a child’s IQ, learning capabilities and behavior. There is no known safe level of lead in the body.
 
The agency has identified three areas in Tennessee, Arizona and New York as “unclassifiable,” meaning that available information is insufficient to confirm whether or not the areas are meeting the standards. EPA will take further action once additional information is available.
 
In October 2008, EPA strengthened the nation’s air quality standards for lead ten-fold to 0.15 micrograms of lead per cubic meter of air. EPA also finalized requirements for new monitors to be located near large sources of lead emissions. EPA designated areas as meeting or not meeting the standards in two rounds. Using air quality data from existing monitors, EPA completed the first round of designations in November 2010. This second round relies on data from the new monitors to classify the remaining areas.
 
Last year, EPA designated 16 other areas in 11 states as not meeting the standards because their 2007 to 2009 air quality monitoring data showed that their emissions were above the agency’s health-based standards. Based on new air quality monitoring information, and recommendations from Pennsylvania, EPA is expanding the size of one of those areas, Lower Beaver Valley, Pa to ensure that the entire area that exceeds the standard is properly identified.
 
Areas designated as not meeting the standards will need to develop plans within 18 months and implement them within five years to reduce pollution to meet the lead standards. No areas in Indian Country are being designated nonattainment.

National average concentrations of lead in the air have dropped 93 percent nationwide since 1980, largely the result of the agency's phase-out of lead in gasoline. Lead in the air comes from a variety of sources, including smelters, iron and steel foundries, and piston-engine aircraft operating on leaded aviation gasoline.

More information on the designations can be found at: www.epa.gov/leaddesignations

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