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Lead Designations

Fact Sheet - Modifications to State and Tribal Recommendations for Areas Not Meeting the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for Lead Established in 2008


  • On June 15, 2010 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sent letters to state and tribal representatives responding to their initial recommendations for areas meeting and not meeting the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for lead (Pb). The letters indicate either agreement with the initial recommendations, EPA’s intent to modify the initial recommendations, or deferral of a decision on the recommendations until June 2011. States and tribes now have the opportunity to comment on EPA’s modifications to their recommendations, and to provide new information and analyses to EPA if appropriate.
  • On October 15, 2008, EPA revised the NAAQS for Pb by significantly strengthening the standard from 1.5 micrograms per cubic meter (μg/m3) to 0.15 μg/m3. Lead exposure can cause a range of adverse health effects, most notably in children. Exposures to low levels of lead early in life have been linked to effects on IQ, learning, memory and behavior. Reducing levels of lead pollution is an important part of EPA’s commitment to a clean, healthy environment.

  • After EPA sets a new NAAQS or revises an existing NAAQS, the Agency formally identifies or “designates” areas as “attainment/unclassifiable” (meeting the standard or expected to be meeting the standard despite a lack of monitoring data), “nonattainment” (not meeting the standard), or “unclassifiable” (insufficient information to classify).

  • EPA will provide the public with an opportunity to comment on the Agency’s proposed modifications to the state and tribal recommendations and offer additional information that may help establish the final nonattainment area boundaries. EPA will issue a Federal Register notice announcing the start of this comment period shortly. EPA will accept public comment through August 16, 2010.

  • States and tribes had previously provided EPA with their initial designation recommendations based on the most recent three years of air quality monitoring data available at that time – generally 2006 to 2008. These data are from the network of monitors that existed prior to EPA’s revision to the Pb NAAQS. In areas where EPA plans to make final designations in October 2010, EPA will base the designations on existing air quality monitoring data from 2007, 2008 and 2009.

  • In conjunction with strengthening the lead NAAQS, EPA also established new criteria for siting ambient lead monitors. The pre-existing ambient lead monitoring network was inadequate for determining whether many areas are meeting the revised lead NAAQS. Monitors meeting the new network siting requirements were to begin operation January 1, 2010.
  • EPA intends to extend the designation process for some areas by up to one year to consider information from newly deployed monitors. For these areas EPA intends to provide responses to state and tribal recommendations by June 2011, and complete a second round of final designations in October 2011. States and tribes may provide updated recommendations for the second round of designations by December 15, 2010.
  • EPA will be making designations for all areas in the country, both for state lands and for Indian country. Unlike states, tribes are not obligated to submit designation recommendations but are invited to participate in the designations process by submitting a designation recommendation for Indian country and/or by engaging in formal or informal consultation with EPA and states.
  • Once designations take effect, they become an important component of state, local and tribal governments’ efforts to reduce lead pollution. The designations govern what subsequent regulatory actions states and EPA must take in order to improve or preserve air quality in each area.


  • EPA will make final nonattainment designations for some areas by October 2010 based air monitoring data from 2007 - 2009. All other areas will be designated as nonattainment, attainment/unclassifiable, or unclassifiable by October 2011. Areas designated nonattainment will be required to take action to improve their air quality.

  • The Clean Air Act requires states to take steps to control lead pollution in nonattainment areas. Those steps may include stricter controls on industrial facilities.

  • States must detail control requirements in plans demonstrating how they will attain and maintain the 2008 lead NAAQS. Those plans are known as state implementation plans, or SIPs. States must submit their plans to EPA within eighteen months after the Agency’s final designations become effective. Nonattainment areas are required to meet the standards within five years of being designated.

  • Tribes also may submit plans, known as tribal implementation plans (TIPS), but are not required to do so. EPA will develop federal requirements, as appropriate, where a tribe does not develop a TIP.

  • Once designated, nonattainment areas also are subject to nonattainment new source review requirements. Nonattainment New Source Review is a permitting program for industrial facilities to ensure that new and modified sources of pollution do not impede progress toward cleaner air.

  • Areas that are designated attainment/unclassifiable or unclassifiable will not have to take steps to improve air quality but they must take steps to help prevent their air quality from deteriorating to unhealthy levels. For example, Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) is a permitting program for industrial facilities to ensure that new and modified sources of pollution do not cause or contribute to violations of air quality standards.

  • In November 2008, EPA provided guidance to states and tribes for recommending nonattainment area boundaries for the lead standard. EPA’s proposed decisions on lead designations are based on that guidance and on EPA’s consideration of information and recommendations submitted by States.


  • For more information on the designation process for the lead standards, and to view individual letters from EPA to states and tribes, go to EPA’s Web site at