Here’s some public health man-bites-dog news. George Bush’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) did something right:
The Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday set stringent new standards for airborne lead particles, following the recommendations of its science advisers and cutting the maximum allowable concentrations to a tenth of the previous standard. It was the first change in federal lead standards in three decades.
The new standards set the limits for exposure at 0.15 micrograms per cubic meter of air, down from 1.5 micrograms, and well within the outer limit of 0.2 micrograms recommended by the advisers. (New York Times)
It’s not perfect. Let infested sites don’t have to be cleaned up for eight years, and while the standards for ambient lead is now stricter, the monitoring system has shrunk from 800 stations in 1980 to a little over 130 today. EPA says it wants to double the existing monitors, but this would still put it at less than half its previous strength. Still, compared to the usual Bush EPA blind-eye-to-science approach, it’s good news. Everything’s relative, as my mother used to say.
We may know more about the health effects of lead than any other toxic material. Science has yet to find a level that isn’t harmful to neurodevelopment in children, so the massive decline (almost 90%) in children’s blood leads since leaded gasoline was banned in the late 1970s (not for health reasons but because it poisoned the catalytic converters in an auto’s emission system) is a major trimph in environmental health. But the decline had plateaued. The new air standards may now get it moving downward again, although much more gently than before.
So I’m happy. But not everyone is. The folks who recycle lead storage batteries are complaining:
. . . Robert N. Steinwurtzel, a lawyer for the Association of Battery Recyclers, a group of six companies that use a smelting process to disassemble and recycle as many as 115 million car batteries annually, called the new standard problematic. “It potentially threatens the viability of the lead recycling industry,” Mr. Steinwurtzel said.
Association officials traveled to the White House earlier this month to plead their case for a less stringent standard. Battery recyclers, along with utilities, cement kilns and metalworking shops, are the major emitters of airborne lead.
The amazing thing about these guys putting their business ahead of children’s health isn’t that they would do it but that, for once, the Bush administration didn’t bend over for them.