From: Andy Soos, ENN
Published November 10, 2011 08:02 AM

Lead Air Quality

It has long been understood that lead in water is not good.  Well neither is lead in the air.  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has determined that available air quality information indicates 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, EPA also determined that Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan and Puerto Rico each have one area that does not meet the agency’s health based standards for lead. Exposure to lead may impair a child’s IQ, learning capabilities and behavior.


Lead has long been recognized as a harmful environmental pollutant. In late 1991, the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services called lead the "number one environmental threat to the health of children in the United States." There are many ways in which humans are exposed to lead: through air, drinking water, food, contaminated soil, deteriorating paint, and dust. Airborne lead enters the body when an individual breathes or swallows lead particles or dust once it has settled. Before it was known how harmful lead could be, it was used in paint, gasoline, water pipes, and many other products.

The agency also is identifying three areas located 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 in today’s announcement 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.  

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.  

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