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Research Successes - Lead Levels

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Strategic Planning Document -
Environment and Natural Resources

Research Successes

75% Reduction in Blood Lead Levels in Children

During the past two decades, health assessments have demonstrated adverse effects resulting from lower exposures to lead than previously recognized. At high doses lead can cause psychiatric and neurological changes, digestive problems, kidney failure, and death. We now know that in children much lower doses of lead adversely affects nervous system development, learning ability, and behavior.

In the late 1970s, 88% of American children between the ages of one to five had blood lead concentrations above levels that health experts now consider safe. In the United States, exposures to lead have resulted from flaking and chalking lead-based paint, drinking water contaminated by lead pipes and fixtures, and air pollution from leaded gasoline and other sources.

Research on exposures and the effects of lead formed the basis for government actions such as the ban on the use of lead house paint, lead-soldered cans, and the phasing down of lead additives in gasoline. As a result, the amount of lead in the average American's bloodstream fell more than 75% over the past 15 years, and only 8.9% of American children now have blood lead levels that are considered hazardous.

The challenge today is to address residual lead risks for people, particularly children, who live in low-income housing with lead paint hazards. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Health and Human Services, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Department of Housing and Urban Development, and Centers for Disease Control have a coordinated strategy to address these risks.

New Technologies Clean Up Hazardous Waste Faster, Cheaper

New remediation technologies can significantly lower costs and shorten the time for cleaning up contaminated soils and groundwater. Previously, treatment involved simply pumping and treating groundwater and excavating soils. A new technology, in situ air stripping, injects air through a horizontal well. The diffused air contains the hazardous chemicals and is transported to the surface via another well in which gases are extracted. This process is now accepted as the industry standard and is five times more cost effective than the traditional pump-and-treat technology.

Cooperative research between federal research laboratories and private industry has successfully developed other new technologies. The Petroleum Environmental Research Forum, for example, has demonstrated that certain nutrients will greatly increase the breakdown of toxic chemicals by microbes indigenous to some soils. This research shows that the microbes nourished in a specific area form a biological barrier, or microbial filter, and convert contaminants into clean water and carbon dioxide. This technology can be used to clean up oil spills from underground storage tanks. The breakdown of such compounds in situ, opposed to having to be removed from the site, provides a far more cost-effective cleanup method.

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Environment and Natural Resources - Table of Contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Appendix A

Appendix B

Appendix C

Executive Summary

Research Successes - Ecosystem Research

Research Successes - Observation & Data Management

Research Successes - Biodiversity

Research Successes - Environmental Technology

Research Successes - Global Change


Research Successes - Natural Disaster Reduction

Research Successes - Environmental Change

Research Successes - Forest Research

Research Successes - Air Quality

Research Successes - Lead Levels

Research Successes - Science Policy Tools

Research Successes - Water Resources