Thursday, December 07, 2006

Can the air be too clean?

Can the air be too clean? Apparently the Bush administration thinks so. After over a quarter century of progress of eliminating the amount of lead from the air we breathe the Bush administration is now considering backtracking on the health standards enforced by the Environmental Protection Agency.

According to the Associated Press:
The Bush administration is considering doing away with health standards that cut lead from gasoline, widely regarded as one of the nation's biggest clean-air accomplishments.

Battery makers, lead smelters, refiners all have lobbied the administration to do away with the Clean Air Act limits.

A preliminary staff review released by the Environmental Protection Agency this week acknowledged the possibility of dropping the health standards for lead air pollution. The agency says revoking those standards might be justified "given the significantly changed circumstances since lead was listed in 1976" as an air pollutant.

The EPA says concentrations of lead in the air have dropped more than 90 percent in the past 2 1/2 decades.

But Rep. Henry Waxman (news, bio, voting record), D-Calif., the incoming chairman of the House Committee on Government Reform, called on the agency to "renounce this dangerous proposal immediately," because lead, a highly toxic element, can cause severe nerve damage, especially in children.

"This deregulatory effort cannot be defended," Waxman wrote EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson.

Soon after lead was listed as an air pollutant 30 years ago, the Carter administration began removing lead from gasoline. Other big sources of lead in the atmosphere are from solid waste, coal, oil, iron and steel production, lead smelters and tobacco smoke.

The health standards for air pollutants are intended to protect children, elderly and other "sensitive" populations, keep up visibility and limit damage to animals, crops, vegetation and buildings.

In July, a Washington-based trade group for all U.S. lead battery makers wrote a top EPA air quality official to urge that the agency remove lead from its list of air pollutants.

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