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EDF Attacks EPA's Airborne Lead Standards

April 1973

Citation: 3 ELR 10049

Issue: 4

Small doses of airborne lead in the urban environment may be lowering human resistance to infectious diseases. In a comment addressed to the Environmental Protection Agency's proposed regulations for fuels and fuel additives, the Environmental Defense Fund cited several recent studies demonstrating that in experimental animals lead exposures comparable to those found in many urban populations caused both decreased resistance to bacterial infection and decreased life spans.1 EDF charged that EPA completely overlooked this evidence when setting its standards, and criticized EPA's recent proposal to relax its original plan to reduce lead in gasoline (which accounts for 90% of airborne lead).

In 1972, EPA had originally proposed to reduce the maximum content of lead in a gallon of gasoline to 1.25 grams by 1977. However, in January of this year, EPA proposed new regulations that are less strict than the original restrictions and would give the oil industry an additional year from 1977 to meet the standards. EDF attacked this latest proposal as "inconsistent and irresponsible," particularly in light of the documented medical evidence that makes it "reasonable to assume that the same lead-induced susceptibility in the animals tested is now operating in the human population." EDF argued that the increased estimate of the health hazard of airborne lead should be met with accelerated corrective action rather than a delay, a decrease in the average lead allowed in gasoline rather than an increase, and a greater restriction of maximum permitted levels rather than removal of such restrictions. EDF concluded that the petroleum industry will only meet the new standards when it is required to do so, and that no additional delay should be allowed to increase and prolong the lead exposure of urban dwellers. EDF urged EPA to reconsider the valuable medical evidence, "keeping in mind that it is not only the cost effectiveness of automobile and gasoline production that deserves protection. Also threatened or already compromised is the health of millions of Americans."

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