Photo of a large tank in transport on a U.S. Highway (C) Daniel Friedman Lead Emissions: Permissible Level of Lead in Air

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Airborne lead: this article describes the current and historical limits on airborne lead exposure. Links to Lead Testing Services are also provided.

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Airborne Lead Emissions in the U.S. - history of permissible levels

  • 0.15 mg/M3 - October 2008: The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced new standards setting airborne lead particle exposure limits at 0.15 micrograms of lead per cubic meter of air. -- New York Times. The Times article pointed out that cleanup for areas that exceed this standard is not required for more than eight years and that current airborne lead monitoring systems are "frayed" (133 monitors in operation compared with 800 monitors for airborne lead in 1980). The Times added that advisers recommended an outer limit for exposure of 0.2 mg/L. The origial news release concerning the new EPA Standard for airborne lead was issued by the Associated Press.

    "The EPA acted after a lawsuit brought by the Missouri Coalition for the Environment led a federal court in 2004 to order a review of the lead standard." - MSNBC

    "EPA estimates that 18 counties in a dozen states across the country will violate the new standard, requiring state and local governments to find ways to further reduce lead emissions from smelters, metal mines and other sources." - USA Today
  • 1.5 mg/M3 - Prior airborne lead exposure limit (ca 1978): 1.5 micrograms of airborne lead per cubic meter of air

Sources of Airborne Lead Contamination

  • Historically a large source of airborne lead was from burning of leaded gasoline (now prohibited) from vehicles that used (petrol) gasoline containing alkyl lead. - Castellino/Sannolo.
  • Recycling/waste management industry: smelting processes to recycle automotive batteries according to 10/08 news reports.
  • Possibly resuspension of soils from along highways according to Young et als. and also Castellino/Sannolo, particularly for lead from automobiles that settled as larger particles within the first 15 feet of highway borders, but significantly, also lead settling as smaller particles within 100 feet of the highway borders. Lead from this source, particularly the second source, may also have entered certain crops later ingested by humans or animals, thus entering the food chain.
  • Lead in certain soil sediments (pelagic abyssal sediments Castellino/Sannolo)
  • Lead-based paint products used on buildings may have been an intermittent source of airborne lead (during renovations and paint stripping) as well as soil contamination by lead (during paint stripping or remodeling).

Note that this list focuses on airborne lead sources, not on all lead sources which may affect humans or animals. See LEAD POISONING HAZARDS GUIDE for more details.

Watch out for environmental testing and cleanup that are not performed by qualified experts. Details & examples of what can go wrong are at ASBESTOS REMOVAL, Amateur, Incomplete and ASBESTOS REMOVAL CERTIFICATIONS.

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