The Environmental Protection Agency has approved a tough new rule aimed at clearing the nation’s air of lead – but federal documents have revealed that the Bush Administration quietly weakened a key provision. As a result, dozens of polluters were exempted from scrutiny. It appears that a new network of monitors designed to track lead emissions from factories has been scaled back. The change undermines a rule that otherwise has been widely hailed as a powerful step in protecting children’s health. The fight against childhood lead poisoning is too important to allow the Bush gang to get away with this sort of thing.
The federal rule was prompted by compelling research showing lead is more dangerous than had been thought. Even low levels of the toxic metal in young children have been linked to learning disabilities, aggression and criminal behavior later in life. It’s significant that many scientists believe there is no safe level of exposure. The EPA last month, when it was facing a court order to act more aggressively, lowered the maximum amount of lead allowed in the air. The new standard, 0.15 micrograms per cubic meter, is ten times more stringent than the standard set in 1978. To help meet the new limit, the EPA planned to require lead monitors next to any factory emitting at least half a ton of lead a year. But after the White House intervened, the agency raised the threshold to a ton or more of lead, according to e-mails and other documents exchanged between the EPA and the Office of Management and Budget.
As a result of the White House’s actions, dozens of factories won’t be checked regularly. While federal and state officials debate the exact number, a review of EPA records by the New York Times found the number of U.S. plants monitored could drop by nearly 60%, from 203 to 87. S. William Becker, executive director of the National Assn. of Clean Air Agencies, observed: “This sleight of hand by the administration ignores major sources of a dangerous neurotoxin.” While the Obama administration could try to amend the lead rule, that process would take months.
National lead emissions have dropped 97% under the old standard, largely because lead was removed from gasoline. But cement plants, smelters, steel mills and other factories still emit about 1,300 tons of lead into the air each year, according to the EPA. After tiny lead particles settle to the ground, they can stay there for years. Exposure can occur when people, especially children, handle or play with contaminated soil and then put dirty hands into their mouths. The EPA was urged to set tougher lead standards. Dozens of monitors scattered across the country already check lead levels in the air, but the EPA estimated that it would take dozens more to track emissions from polluters releasing at least a half-ton of lead.
As previously reported, industry lobbyists fought hard against the new standard and the additional monitoring. They argued that lingering dust from leaded gasoline and lead paint are a much bigger threat to children than ongoing industrial emissions. In written comments filed with the EPA and the Office of Management and Budget, lead battery manufacturers and recyclers said many of their facilities would fail to comply with the tougher standard. They claimed that if factories had to reduce lead emissions, companies would be forced to move operations to countries with lax environmental policies. The Assn. of Battery Recyclers wrote in comments to the Office of Management and Budget that a tougher lead rule would lead to “environmental and human health risks attributable to mishandling, improper disposal and illegal export of millions of spent lead acid batteries.” A related organization, the Battery Council International, told the EPA that the more stringent monitoring standards would be “unjustifiably low.” It would appear that protecting the health and safety of children would be the top priority for the EPA and at last a priority for industry.
After lobbyists from the industry met with Bush Administration officials, the White House ordered the EPA to raise the monitoring threshold to a ton or more. Federal records document this highly questionable action by the Bush gang. According to EPA officials, states could add lead monitors if they thought it was necessary. The EPA said in a prepared statement:
We selected an approach that would still ensure monitoring around those sources that have the potential to contribute to a violation of the standards.
Hopefully, the Obama Administration will get involved and make the EPA change the rule. Unfortunately, this is just one of many problems that the new Administration will have to correct.
Source: New York Times
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