Lead emissions under scrutiny
Opponents of strict new federal regulations requiring companies to report levels of lead emissions say the rules are overbearing and will be costly for thousands of small businesses.
They also may be redundant in Pennsylvania, which has had tougher rules in effect for years.
Under rules issued in the last days of the Clinton presidency and recently upheld by the Bush administration, companies that emit more than 100 pounds of lead each year will have to report their emissions, retroactive to Jan. 1.
Until now, only companies that process 10,000 pounds a year were required to report emissions to the federal Environmental Protection Agency. Only reporting of lead emissions is required – cleanup is not.
Lead poisoning is the foremost environmental health risk in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control. It can cause learning and hearing disabilities, and prolonged exposure can damage the neurological and reproductive systems. Scientific studies have found that lead persists indefinitely in the environment and also remains in human bone for more than 25 years.
‘There is no safe level of exposure to lead,’ said Jeremiah Baumann of the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, an environmental group in Washington D.C. ‘The public knows that lead is toxic, and this reporting rule represents great progress.’
| According to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, at least seven companies in western Pennsylvania with smokestacks emit more than 100 pounds of airborne lead each year; at least three emit less than 100 pounds.
Companies that emit more than 100 pounds of airborne lead each year:
Companies that emit less than 100 pounds of airborne lead per year:
According to the Environmental Protection Agency’s 1999 Toxic Release Inventory, the following companies are significant emitters of lead:
Sources: Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, EPA
What to some is progress, though, is burdensome regulation to others.
Some 36 manufacturing associations are jointly suing the EPA. Their lawsuit questions the scientific methodology the agency used to determine how lead emissions should be reported.
The new regulations will cost companies an average of $7,500 each year, according to EPA estimates. Overall, businesses will need to spend about $116 million in the first year to comply. Thereafter, the EPA estimates, businesses will have to spend about $60 million every year to comply.
By lowering the bar for reporting lead waste, the EPA estimates that an additional 9,800 companies nationwide will have to report. Their results will be included in the agency’s annual Toxics Release Inventory, a listing available on the EPA’s Internet site.
The EPA also estimates that about 1,000 additional businesses will have to report for the first time in the five-state region that includes Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia.
Environmental regulations in Pennsylvania already require companies that emit more than 20 pounds of airborne lead to file reports each year. There are now 61 such companies.
‘Twenty pounds is a lot less than 100, so many companies are already being monitored and reporting their emissions to us,’ said April Hutcheson, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.
The state also tracks any company that is disposing of solid waste that contains lead, although the amount of lead is not usually measured.
Still, state regulators say they favor more detailed reporting of lead waste.
‘Better monitoring and reporting is, in a basic sense, good for the public,’ said Hutcheson.
Companies required to report may have to install expensive monitoring equipment and hire consultants to estimate lead waste levels – a process that requires precise scientific calculations.
The expense of it all ‘could be quite a burden,’ said Jeffrey Marks, who runs the air quality program at the National Association of Manufacturers in Washington.
Experts on industrial regulation agree that lead is hazardous. But there is a fine line between regulations that are effective and those that cripple business, they say.
‘We all want safe lead levels, but at some point a cost-benefit analysis may tell you that you are down to diminishing returns,’ said Vic Tucci, a medical doctor and the director of Three Rivers Health and Safety, a Pittsburgh-area consulting firm that helps companies comply with workplace regulations.
Exactly how new federal lead reporting regulations will play out in western Pennsylvania is far from clear. Still home to many heavy industries, the region’s levels of toxic waste emissions are ranked poorly by watchdog groups like Environmental Defense.
Some area business leaders seem unfazed by the more stringent lead reporting regulations.
‘I have not had any of my members complain to me about these regulations,’ said Cliff Shannon, president of the SCM Small Business Council, an organization that represents more than 5,000 small businesses in the region.
Companies most likely to be affected by the amended regulations are manufacturers of plastics, paint and electronics equipment, as well as metals companies.
Some of the companies that now report say more stringent reporting regulations will not curb toxic waste emission.
‘Reporting has had no effect on us whatsoever, on what this company does. For us, it is simply tracking,’ said Hank Springer, of Mill Service Inc., a Pittsburgh-based company that treats industrial toxic waste at a Westmoreland County facility.
Mill Service, which was founded in 1957, treats waste from the steel, glass, cadmium and chromium industries. There are 36 employees. The company has been the target of protests from local residents, who say the company is adversely affecting public health.
‘Lead is an environmental and health concern, but I do not see this as an impetus to change business practices – I see it as a burden,’ Springer said.
Springer believes the number of businesses required to report under the new guidelines will quadruple.
Each year, Mill Service has to prepare an exhaustive list of the toxins it releases. The cost, Springer said, is ‘tens of thousands of dollars.’
‘By comparison, doing income taxes is cheap and easy,’ he said.