EPA lists areas exceeding tougher lead limits

Parts of 12 states have failed to meet stricter airborne lead standards put in place by the George W. Bush administration, U.S. EPA said yesterday in preliminary advice to states.

The national air quality standard for lead, tightened in 2008 for the first time in 30 years, allows 0.15 micrograms of lead per cubic meter -- one-tenth the previous limit. EPA is slated to make some final nonattainment decisions in October, followed by another round next year, with yesterday's letters to states highlighting some areas of the country that are likely to come up short.

The letters list 20 counties with airborne lead hotspots, 16 of which had been recommended by state agencies. The remaining areas, singled out by federal regulators, are in the metropolitan areas of Troy, Ala.; Hayden, Ariz.; and Tampa, Fla.

Lead exposure is linked to health problems such as organ failure, developmental disorders and neurological damage. Children are particularly susceptible to the heavy metal, airborne emissions, which have fallen by more than 90 percent since the switch to unleaded gasoline in the 1980s.

The airborne lead limits were tightened after advocacy groups including the Missouri Coalition for the Environment filed a lawsuit in 2004 accusing EPA of shirking its responsibility under the Clean Air Act to review the standards. They had not been reviewed since 1990.


The tougher standards withstood a challenge in federal court from the Coalition of Battery Recyclers Association and Doe Run Resources Corp., which said during oral arguments before the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia that the tighter limit was stricter than necessary to protect public health.

Among the areas said to be in line for nonattainment yesterday was Jefferson County, Mo., home to Doe Run's lead plant. The facility in Herculaneum is the nation's only primary lead smelter.

A three-judge panel ruled unanimously against the industry groups. In an opinion for the court, Judge Judith Rogers wrote that "the revised lead NAAQS is overprotective because it is more stringent than necessary to protect the entire population of young U.S. children ignores that the Clean Air Act allows protection of sensitive subpopulations."

Click here to read the judges' opinion.

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