LEAD Action News
Vol 2 no 3
Standard for Lead in Ambient Air
by Elizabeth O'Brien, The LEAD Group Inc. and Theresa Gordon, No-LEAD
Since the NHMRC has replaced the level of concern for blood lead of 25 µg/dL with a goal of 10 µg/dL, the acceptable standard for lead in air (1.5 µg/m³) has become outdated and inadequate, as it was designed to correspond with the previous level of concern for blood lead of 30 µg/dL.
The 1987 WHO guideline for lead in air of 0.5 - 1.0 µg/m³ was designed to maintain 98% of the population with a blood lead level below 20 µg/dL. Even it is outdated for Australia's goal for blood lead levels.
The California EPA has proposed a lead in air standard of 0.15 µg/m³, ie one-tenth our current standard. The US EPA has estimated that every 1.0 µg/m³ of lead in air contributes 3-5 µg/dL of lead to children's blood.
The second major recommendation of the NHMRC Report by RMIT, completed in time for the Lead Round table in July 1993, was to "Review current ambient air objectives for lead".
The long and apparently endless wait for the NHMRC's revision of the lead in air standard raises the question as to whether an environmental protection body should not take over the revision process, eg ANZECC.
A major priority recommendation of the Lead in Air Working Group of the NSW Lead Taskforce, written in December 1993, was that the NHMRC should URGENTLY revise the goal for lead in air and assess if the sampling frequency of a 6-day cycle, 90 day average is appropriate around point sources.
Victoria has made moves to step away from the frustratingly slow and inefficient process of the NHMRC by proposing to lower Victoria's ambient standards for PM10 and ozone. A similar move by any state government on ambient lead levels would raise serious doubts about the Federal Government's motivation and capabilities in setting goals which protect human health and the environment.
Only states can at this time turn a federally recommended goal into a standard (for incorporation in industry licences, etc.). While states such as NSW only have goals for ambient lead in air, polluters are not forced to take action when the goal is exceeded. §
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Updated 13 November 2012