EPA Proposes Stronger Emissions Standards for Secondary Lead Smelters

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is proposing stronger air toxics standards for secondary lead smelters, which would improve air quality and protect people’s health in communities where the smelters are located. The proposed standards would cut lead and arsenic emissions and would, for the first time, require these facilities to control emissions of dioxins. Exposure to toxic air pollutants can cause cancer and other serious health issues. Even at low levels, exposure to lead can impair a child’s IQ, learning capabilities and memory.

Secondary lead smelters use furnaces to remove and recycle lead from scrap material, mostly from automobile batteries, keeping a significant amount of lead from polluting our environment. These facilities have already made significant emissions reductions due to the current standards that were issued in 1997 as well as other state and industry actions. The new proposal would result in an additional 63 percent reduction in lead and arsenic emissions. These reductions will also help areas meet the new, more protective air quality standards for lead the agency issued in 2008.

EPA’s proposal would give these facilities the option to choose the most practical and cost-effective emissions control technology or emissions-reduction techniques, which are readily available and already being used by many of the facilities.

Fewer than 20 secondary smelters throughout the United States and its territories would be covered by this proposal. Some of these facilities have taken additional steps beyond what is required by the existing standard to further control and significantly reduce their emissions.

The Clean Air Act requires EPA to perform two types of reviews after air toxics standards have been issued. The first determines if additional reductions from regulated facilities are needed to protect public health and the environment and the second determines if any new, cost-effective emissions control approaches, practices or processes have been developed since the standards were issued. Both reviews showed that updates to the standards for secondary lead smelters needed to be made.  

Lead emitted into the air can be inhaled or can be ingested after it settles in the environment. Ingestion is the main route of human exposure. Children are the most susceptible to lead poisoning because they are more likely to ingest lead, and their bodies are developing rapidly. There is no known safe level of lead in the human body.

EPA will accept comment on this proposal for 45 days after publication in the Federal Register. The agency is under court order to issue a final rule for these sources in December 2011.