Federal environmental regulators today declared that Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood violates tough new EPA lead standards which place limits on brain-damaging lead in the air, part of a crackdown on polluters in the predominantly Latino, low-income enclave.

After monitoring lead pollution in the neighborhood for more than a year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency tentatively moved to designate Pilsen as one of two Illinois communities where people breathe unhealthy levels of the toxic metal. The other surrounds a steel mill in Granite City, across the Mississippi River from St. Louis.
If the decision is made official as expected following a 30-day comment period, state officials will have until 2013 to figure out how to reduce lead pollution and until 2017 to ensure those efforts are effective.

“The fact that there are elevated lead levels in a neighborhood in Chicago is of concern,” said Cheryl Newton, director of the U.S. EPA’s Region 5 Air and Radiation Division. “This is the first step in a process that will reduce those levels and will bring healthy air quality back to the neighborhood.”
The proposed “non-attainment” area is bounded by Roosevelt Road to the north, the Dan Ryan Expressway to the east, the Stevenson Expressway to the south and Damen Avenue to the west.
Those boundaries were recommended by the Illinois EPA earlier this month based on air samples it collected last year at a Pilsen elementary school.
The Tribune first reported in April that average lead levels at Perez Elementary School, were at or above federal limits during three three-month periods in 2010. Lead pollution exceeded health standards during a fifth of the days monitored last year and, on one day in December, spiked more than 10 times higher than the federal limit.

Based on an analysis of lead particles measured at Perez and nearby Juarez Community Academy, federal and state officials think most of the pollution is coming from the H. Kramer and Co. smelter less than two blocks away. The smelter, one of the biggest industrial sources of lead in the Chicago area, already faces a federal EPA complaint.

A Kramer spokeswoman said the company had no comment on the U.S. EPA’s preliminary finding.

Even at low levels, exposure to lead can impair a child’s IQ, learning capabilities and memory. Although airborne lead levels have dropped dramatically in the United States since the transition to unleaded gas, the latest science indicates the stronger standards are necessary to protect children. The U.S. EPA adopted a new air quality standard for lead in 2008 that is 10 times lower than the previous one. More information about new national air quality standards for lead is available on EPA’s website: http://www.epa.gov/leaddesignations.

Source: Chicago Tribune www.chicagotribune.com