Airborne Lead Violations Still Occur in 14 States

November 23, 2011

Airborne lead poses a serious health threat. Fortunately, there have been sharp drops in this pollutant following a range of efforts in recent decades.

But based on the new standard adopted in 2008 that is one-tenth what it had been, EPA has determined, in two steps in November of 2011 and 2010, that 21 areas in 14 states and Puerto Rico are in violation. The culprits often are one or more significant lead emitters such as smelters, iron or steel foundries, waste incinerators, utilities, or lead-acid battery manufacturers.

The affected states are AL, CA, FL, IL, IN, IA, KS, MI, MN, MO, OH, PA, TN, TX, and Puerto Rico. For each, EPA has designated a specific county, or part of a county, that is in violation.

Areas in AZ (surrounding the town of Hayden on the eastern edge of Pinal Co.), NY (Orange Co.), and TN (Knox Co.) are still under review due to limited information; EPA says it will decide whether those areas are in violation after the information gaps are satisfactorily filled.

Areas that don't meet the standard have 16 months to get a mitigation plan approved, and 5 years to implement the plan. Meanwhile, health of local residents will continue to be at risk. EPA says no concentration of lead in the body is safe.

Among the tools for identifying specific lead sources are:

  • Right-to-Know Network (enter state and county, as well as lead* under "Chemical name"; data is for 2009 and earlier).
  • EPA, AirData (select a state and county from the EPA list of violators, then under the "Hazardous Air Pollutants, Emissions" category select "Facility Emissions" under "Reports"; note that the latest data is for 2002, and EPA is in the process of updating this site).

One other source of lead is piston-engine planes using leaded aviation gasoline. As a starting point for context on this issue, in 2009 piston-engine general aviation aircraft alone burned more than 200 million gallons of fuel, the vast majority of which was leaded.

Airports with a substantial number of these planes could be a concern. Efforts by EPA and others to reduce or eliminate lead emissions from planes are under way.