EPA Staff Calls for More Protective Airborne Lead StandardEPA Staff Calls for More Protective Airborne Lead Standard

A key document in EPA's review of national air quality standards for lead recommends the agency strengthen the current lead standards to better protect children.

The "Final Staff Paper," released on Nov. 1, does not change current air quality standards. It does, however, contain EPA staff recommendations for the administrator to consider in upcoming decisions about revising the national air quality standards for lead.

The Clean Air Act requires EPA to periodically review air quality standards to ensure they provide adequate health and environmental protection and to update those standards if necessary. The staff based the final paper on a review of current science about lead and health, as well as on analyses of risks at current levels of lead in the air. It recommends that EPA lower the lead standards from the current level of 1.5 micrograms per cubic meter (ug/m3), setting a revised standard within a range that extends as high as 0.2 ug/m3 and as low as 0.05 ug/m3. The paper also recommends EPA not consider revoking the lead standard, or removing lead from the list of criteria pollutants.

Average lead concentrations in the air have dropped 96 percent since 1980, primarily as a result of the ban on lead in motor vehicle gasoline, officials said. Any changes to the lead air quality standard would not affect that ban.

In addition to the changes to improve public health protection, the document recommends that the administrator consider revising the existing secondary lead standard to be equal to a revised primary standard.

The assessments, conclusions and recommendations included are staff judgments and do not represent agency decisions on the lead standards. By the end of November, EPA will issue an advance notice of proposed rulemaking outlining policy options the agency is considering, and seeking public comment.

EPA is required by a consent decree to issue a proposal regarding the lead standards by May 1, 2008, and to issue a final rule by Sept. 1, 2008. The agency is planning to issue the proposal in March 2008.

The final staff paper and a related fact sheet can be accessed at www.epa.gov/ttn/naaqs/standards/pb/s_pb_cr_sp.html.

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