January 2012

Volume 21, Number 1

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EPA: Less Lead in Air, But Still a Danger to Millions

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By Evan Dick


This 1904 photo shows the St. Joseph Lead Companies smelter in Herculaneum, Missouri. This is now the site of the only lead smelter in the U.S., which is also the nation's largest point source for airborne lead pollution. The area surrounding the smelter is one of the 21 locations that EPA has reported exceed air-quality standards for lead.

Photo: Jefferson County Library

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released monitoring data showing that 21 areas in 14 states and Puerto Rico still do not meet the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for lead established in 2008.

While the data show the majority of the country is in compliance, locations that don’t meet the standard include densely populated areas of Los Angeles, Chicago, and Cleveland as well as several smaller cities, such as Muncie, Indiana; Tampa Bay, Florida; and Reading, Pennsylvania. In addition, three areas in Arizona, Tennessee, and New York still lack sufficient data for a classification.

According to EPA, the phase-out of leaded gasoline has resulted in a 93% drop in lead levels in the air since 1980, but lead still enters the atmosphere from smelters, iron and steel foundries, and leaded aviation fuel, as well as so-called legacy pollution—contaminated areas that release lead into the air when soil is disturbed by human activity or climate conditions.

Airborne lead can be inhaled or ingested after it settles. For more information, go to www.epa.gov.

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December 27, 2011