Battery Council's Lafond discusses upcoming EPA decision on air quality standards

Under the Clean Air Act, EPA is required to set national air quality standards for lead and also periodically review and update these standards. In October, after 30 years of maintaining the same standards, EPA is expected to release new monitoring limits. How stringent will the new standards be? What improvements can EPA make on its rule? How is industry reacting? During today's OnPoint, Timothy Lafond, chairman of the Battery Council International's Environment Committee and executive director of environmental engineering and risk management at Johnson Controls, gives his industry's take on the proposed standards and discusses how this issue may permeate the political arena.


Monica Trauzzi: Welcome to the show. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today is Timothy Lafond, chair of the Battery Council International's environment committee and executive director of Environmental Engineering and Risk Management at Johnson Controls. Tim, thanks for coming on the show.

Timothy Lafond: Thanks a lot for having me today, Monica.

Monica Trauzzi: Tim, under the Clean Air Act EPA is required to set national air quality standards for lead. And they're also responsible for periodically reviewing and reassessing the standards. After 30 years of maintaining the same level, EPA is now reconsidering the lead standards and they're expected to make their decision within the next month. Talk a bit about why this is happening now, why EPA is deciding to do this now.

Timothy Lafond: The agency has been under a court order to review the rule as you've mentioned. They're supposed to do it on a periodic basis and they haven't done it for quite a while. It's been 30 years, 1978 since the National Ambient Air Quality Standard for lead was last revised. So the court has told EPA it's time to do it and EPA has followed the court's decision and will be promulgating the final rule here in the next couple of weeks.

Monica Trauzzi: How significant is it that EPA is taking this up now?

Timothy Lafond: Well, this is a major change for our society in that in 1978 the National Ambient Air Quality Standard was set at 1.5 micrograms per cubic meter. At that point, we still had lead and gasoline, we had 74,000 tons per year of lead that was being emitted. In 2008, obviously, we had the lead in gasoline that's been gone since the late 70s, we're down to 1300 tons per year. And the health information, the health effects of lead, the science related to the effects of lead, especially on children, has been revised. There's a lot of information that suggests that the standards should be greatly reduced and that's what the agency has taken to task and is in process of doing.

Monica Trauzzi: So, EPA is proposing a range between 0.1 and 0.3 micro grams per cubic meter. As a representative for the lead battery industry, what are your thoughts on that range?

Timothy Lafond: The Battery Council International, through the course of our commentary and following the rules, did not specifically give an opinion as to what the exact number, in terms of the health affect numbers should be. Our industry is comfortable with the range that's currently being promulgated, 0.1 to 0.3, which is a greater than 95 percent reduction in the present standards. So, wherever the standard is established by the agency, we're prepared to meet that.

Monica Trauzzi: EPA scientists said though it shouldn't go all over 0.2?

Timothy Lafond: The CASAC, the Clean Air Act's, the scientific advisers that address the agency have suggested the number be established in that lower end range between the 0.1 and 0.3. And we expect that EPA will set the standards somewhere in that level. I'm really not prepared to make a guess as to what the agency will end up at, but I think 0.2 is a strong possibility.

Monica Trauzzi: All right, just to give some background for what's happening this week in Congress, Senate EPW is taking a look at EPA's record when it comes to children's environmental health. In the case of lead monitoring, do you think if EPA doesn't stick to that 0.2 or under that they're sort of disregarding all the health effects that you were talking about?

Timothy Lafond: Well, this is the problem that the Battery Council International sees the rule as it's promulgated now by U.S. EPA. There's not enough monitoring expected or that will come out of this rule in the affected areas where at risk children, especially children that live in poverty, live. Let me give you an example. The rule, as it is currently in its form with U.S. EPA, would require only one monitor for lead in the state of Michigan, just one, because there's no major point sources of lead, there's only one statistical major urban area which is the city of Detroit. Now, if EPA chose to place that one lead monitor to determine compliance say in Grosse Point or up in Farmington Hills, where it's fairly affluent and there's really not the kind of urban issues, the state may come away saying we don't have a problem for lead. But it's pretty disappointing from the agency's standpoint, we think, to just require one monitor in a state where there's such a high population of at risk individuals. So we share some of the concerns of Congress that this rule does not get at the affected children that it purports to help.

Monica Trauzzi: But why is a battery trade group so interested in having lower and stricter standards? It almost seems counterintuitive.

Timothy Lafond: Well, that's not the case. The battery industry has a very strong history of reducing our lead emissions and our impact on our neighbors. I mean the reduction of lead from our battery plants is almost 98 percent emitted from late 1978 to the current timeframe. It's in our interest, as an industry, to require that our impact and our footprint and just our whole sustainability aspect of our industry be minimalized. We certainly do not want to be painted with a brush that we cause any problems with children. In fact, of the major point sources that still emit lead, the battery industry is ranked 13th. There are a dozen industry groups that emit more lead on a per ton/per year basis than the battery industry does. But somehow, the argument tends to be painted that the lead industry, meaning the battery industry, is the sole source of the exposures that many people in inner cities still face.

Monica Trauzzi: So, you guys are doing this as much for your selves and your industry as you are for the health of the children in these affected areas?

Timothy Lafond: Stated another way, we have complied with the Clean Air Act and state and local regulations for years. And as these rules are tightening on our industry, we're prepared to comply and we expect to. It's basically business as usual in terms of continuous improvement in our industry. What's not in this rule is a focus by the agency to address the affected children, especially children who live in poverty where our battery plants aren't, we aren't there. Yet these children still are exposed to the level that results in elevated blood leads and exposures that cannot be attributed to point sources and will not be affected at the end of this rule. What I'm concerned about, Monica, is that maybe five years or 10 or 30 years from now you and I will be sitting across the table, once again, probably not 30 years from now, but say 10 years from now and EPA is promulgating to the Clean Air Act revisions to drop the NACS for lead down to say 0.02 and still citing the at risk children in these urban neighborhoods. And you will see that the industry has complied and gone down, but the exposure and the source of the lead that's really from legacy issues, lead in gasoline, etc., coal burning, is still in place.

Monica Trauzzi: Is there any indication that EPA might consider doing what you're proposing here when they release this final rule in October?

Timothy Lafond: We think that they'll look at our comments seriously and they'll address the issue. Certainly, the states that have to implement this rule will be looking for the federal EPA to provide assistance to locate and pay for the monitors that are going to be required to assist in the location and kind of the source of these urban lead issues. So we think EPA will look at our comments seriously and will act appropriately.

Monica Trauzzi: Final question here, lead monitoring has been something that has been talked about for decades in the U.S. Are you expecting this issue to have any play on the campaign trail?

Timothy Lafond: Well, it's interesting, when you look at any kind of environmental effect that has an emotional connection to children, pretty much both sides of the aisle take these issues very seriously and they have great political ramifications. Ironically, we expect that if either Senator Obama or Senator McCain are elected president, that they both might be unhappy with the way this rule has been promulgated and where we end up. So we expect to stay tuned and there certainly will be something that we'll be looking at in the very near future, some changes.

Monica Trauzzi: It may change again.

Timothy Lafond: Absolutely.

Monica Trauzzi: OK, we'll end it right there on that note. Thanks for coming on the show.

Timothy Lafond: You're quite welcome.

Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. See you back here tomorrow.

[End of Audio]



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