EPA Strengthens National Ambient Air Quality Standards for Lead

November 9, 2008
by KATE VACCARO
Client Alert Newsletter November 2008

On October 15, 2008, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ("EPA") finalized a rule strengthening the National Ambient Air Quality Standards ("NAAQS") for lead (the "2008 Lead NAAQS"). The new primary (health-based) standard of 0.15 micrograms per cubic meter ("µg/m3"), measured as the concentration of lead in total suspended particles, is 10 times more stringent than the previous standard established in 1978 (1.5 µg/m3). The 2008 Lead NAAQS also revises the averaging time that must be used to demonstrate compliance with the new standards, from calendar quarters to rolling three-month periods, evaluated over a three-year period, and establishes additional lead monitoring requirements. Presently, the major sources of lead air emissions are industrial sources, including primary and secondary metals processing; iron and steel foundries; industrial, commercial, and institutional boilers; and glass and cement manufacturing. Lead emitted into the atmosphere can be inhaled or, after it has settled onto surfaces, ingested. Once in the body, lead is rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream and can lead to a host of health problems, including cardiovascular disease and decreased kidney function in adults, and effects on the nervous system and cellular damage in children.

The 2008 Lead NAAQS also addresses EPA's approach for implementing the new standards. According to EPA’s new rule, states are required to make recommendations for areas to be designated as being in nonattainment or attainment with the new standards or as unclassifiable by October 2009. EPA intends to finalize attainment designations for all areas by January 2012. States that are designated as being in nonattainment with the 2008 Lead NAAQS must submit state implementation plans ("SIPs") by June 2013 demonstrating how they will achieve the new standards for lead. Finally, states are required to meet the new NAAQS for lead by January 2017.