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'Getting the Lead Out' in NM - Stricter New Standards for Polluters

October 27, 2008

Albuquerque, NM – The federal government took a big step earlier this month to "get the lead out" of New Mexico's air, but some experts say more needs to be done -- and sooner. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently slashed the amount of allowable lead emissions by 90 percent, but also permitted polluters nine years to meet the new standards.

New Mexico is home to some of the largest sources of airborne lead pollution in the West, but the state doesn't have any active lead monitoring stations. That fact alone proves the new standards are lacking, says Avi Kar, lead expert with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). The next step, he says, should be to restore those monitoring locations in order to better watch for violations.

"Right now, limited numbers of monitors exist out there. About half of them were taken down in the last eight years. They need to ramp that back up."

Kar also points to other flaws in the new standard. For example, the ruling averages out lead levels over a three-month period.

"That means bursts of pollution can get averaged out over time and won't result in violations, even though they pollute communities. The final thing is the standard won't fully come into effect until 2017, which is just too long for an entire generation of children."

Lead is a dangerous neurotoxin, and research has shown it to be a health hazard to children, Kar says.

Critics of tightening air pollution restrictions say they could potentially threaten the viability of industries such as battery recycling, metalworking shops and public utilities, all of which are major contributors to airborne lead.

A map of lead polluters is available online at www.nrdc.org.

Eric Mack/Elizabeth Grattan, Public News Service - NM