That is the conclusion of air quality experts at the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as part of a review of national standards governing levels of lead pollution in the air.

Their report, entitled the Final Staff Paper, recommends EPA should lower lead standards from the current level of 1.5 micrograms per cubic metre to 0.2 micrograms or lower.

Authors of the paper said EPA should not consider revoking the lead standard or removing it from a list of pollutants it monitors and controls, alongside ozone, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, sulphur oxides and particulate matter.

Average lead concentrations in the air in the US have dropped 96% since 1980 – largely as a result of the ban on lead in petrol – and the main sources of emissions are now from industry, such as metals processing.

However, medical research undertaken since the current lead standard was set has highlighted greater health risks to children.

A summary of the Final Staff Paper said: “A large body of new scientific studies shows that adverse effects in young children occur at much lower blood lead levels than was understood when the current standard was set in 1978.

“Current health effects evidence does not indicate a level of lead exposure below which adverse health effects may not occur.

“The current evidence demonstrates the occurrence of a variety of adverse health effects associated with lead, including those on the developing nervous system.

“IQ loss in children was the key health effect addressed in the staff paper.”

At the end of November, the Environmental Protection Agency will outline policy options it is considering based on the recommendations in the paper, and is expected to publish a final proposal for lead standards in March 2008.

If a new standard is recommended, it is set to come into force by September next year.

Kate Martin

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