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New EPA Lead Standard Significantly Improved to Protect Kids' Health

But EPA Children's Health Protection Advisory Committee Member Says EPA Analysis Justified Even Better Standard

WASHINGTON, Oct. 16 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has taken a significant step to protect the health of children by strengthening the nation's air quality standard for lead today, according to Environmental Defense Fund.

"While EPA's own analysis justifies an even lower lead standard, this tenfold reduction will go a long way to protecting children most at risk from airborne lead," said Environmental Defense Fund Chief Health Scientist Dr. John Balbus (, a member of the EPA Children's Health Protection Advisory Committee. "It's refreshing to see the agency follow the science and the advice of its experts in making this decision."

The new standard for lead in the air, 0.15 micrograms per cubic meter (microgram/m3), is a tenfold reduction from the current standard of 1.5 microgram/m3 and is within the range recommended to the EPA by its science advisors. The current standard dates back to 1978, a time when leaded gasoline was widely used in automobiles and children's average blood lead levels were seven times higher than today. Most importantly, in 1978, the serious effects of low level lead exposure on children were not yet well understood.

Lead is a potent neurotoxin that interferes with children's brain development and worsens performance on IQ tests. EPA's analysis has shown that to prevent a measurable decrease in IQ for the most vulnerable children in the country, the lead standard would need to be set as low as 0.02 microgram/m3. In addition to strong evidence for harm to children's neurological development at low levels, new science indicates that lead exposures throughout life can increase risks of cardiovascular illness and mortality.

Also in this final decision, EPA has chosen lead in Total Suspended Particulates (TSP) as the main indicator and the highest three month rolling average over three years as the form of the standard for monitoring and compliance. Because TSP captures more of the total available lead in the air than the alternative indicator under consideration, Particulate Matter less than 10 microns in diameter (PM10), it provides greater protection for a given level of the standard.

While lead concentrations in the air have declined, scientific studies have demonstrated that children's neurological development is harmed by much lower levels of lead exposure than previously understood. Low level lead exposure has been clearly linked to loss of IQ in performance testing. Even an average IQ loss of 1-2 points in children has a meaningful impact for the nation as a whole, as it would result in an increase in children classified as mentally challenged, as well as a proportional decrease in the number of children considered "gifted."

Since 1978, regulations and advances in technology have nearly eliminated the use of lead in fuels and paints, resulting in significant decreases in ambient concentrations of lead in air. For many children, lead that is still present in house paints and urban dusts from the time when lead was widely used is the main source of lead exposure. The current standard will only partially address this problem of "legacy" lead; other EPA programs need to address ongoing children's exposure from house paint and urban dusts.

At present, lead smelters, especially the nation's sole primary lead smelter in Jefferson County, Missouri, are the largest sources of lead emissions in communities. Other significant sources include airplane fuels, military installations, mining and metal smelting, iron and steel manufacturing, industrial boilers and process heaters, hazardous waste incineration, and battery manufacture.

Environmental Defense Fund, a leading national nonprofit organization, represents more than 500,000 members. Since 1967, Environmental Defense Fund has linked science, economics, law and innovative private-sector partnerships to create breakthrough solutions to the most serious environmental problems. For more information, visit

CONTACT: John Balbus, 202-572-3316 or 301-908-8186 (cell),

SOURCE Environmental Defense Fund
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