EPA Says 16 Areas in Violation of Airborne Lead Standards

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently identified 16 regions in the United States that fail to meet clean air standards for <"http://www.yourlawyer.com/practice_areas/toxic_substances">airborne lead emissions. The finding underscores the need for immediate action by the EPA to control lead emissions from aviation fuel, the largest source of lead emissions in the U.S.

While the EPA has consistently acknowledged that lead emissions are a public health threat, it has delayed making the official endangerment finding needed to trigger regulation.

“The EPA is moving much too slowly on this critical public health issue,” said Marcie Keever, legal director for Friends of the Earth. “The EPA has more than sufficient information to conclude that lead from aviation fuel endangers public health. The recent findings of clean air violations reinforce our concerns: Fifteen of the sixteen areas declared to have unsafe levels of lead in air are in counties that contain at least one airport where lead is emitted.”

Friends of the Earth, represented by the Environmental Law and Justice Clinic at Golden Gate University School of Law, filed a petition in 2006 urging the EPA to phase out lead in aviation fuel to protect human health and the environment. The group first pushed the EPA to address the danger lead in aviation fuel poses to public health in 2003.

Exposure to lead in children and unborn children can cause brain and nervous system damage, behavioral and learning problems, slowed growth, hearing problems, headaches, mental and physical retardation, and behavioral and other health problems. Lead is also known to cause cancer and reproductive harm and, in adults, lead can damage the nervous system. Of particular concern is the developing brain because negative influences can have long-lasting effects and can continue well into puberty and beyond. Once poisoned, no organ system is immune.

Children with lead poisoning may experience irritability, sleeplessness or excess lethargy, poor appetite, headaches, abdominal pain with or without vomiting—and generally without diarrhea—constipation, and changes in activity level. A child with lead toxicity can be iron deficient and pale because of anemia and can be either hyperactive or lethargic. There may also be dental pointers, for instance, lead lines on gingival tissue. In adults there may be motor problems and an increase in depressive disorders, aggressive behavior, and other maladaptive affective disorders as well as problems with sexual performance, impotence and infertility, as well as increased fetal wastage and sleep disorders, either. They may be over sleeping or have difficulty falling asleep.

Leaded aviation fuel is primarily used in piston engine aircraft, which typically fly in and out of small and municipal airports. The EPA has found that communities near airports; children attending school near airports; and airplane pilots, student-trainees, and passengers are all at risk of exposure to lead emissions from these aircraft. The EPA also noted potential harm from deposits of lead that collect on plants in agricultural areas where piston engine planes are used.

“It has been more than 14 years since the EPA required the complete phase-out of lead in gasoline for cars and Friends of the Earth will stay on the case until the EPA develops a strong emissions standard for lead in aviation fuel,” Keever added.

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