Lead in Washington's air

Ecology monitors lead to protect your health and the environment. It can come from leaded aviation fuel and metal processing facilities. It can seriously affect you and your children's health .

Lead used to be an air quality problem. Today, all areas of Washington meet the air quality standard for lead.

A nugget of lead.

Washington's lead history

The largest sources of lead released to Washington's air are:

  • Piston engine aircraft that use leaded aviation fuel
  • Metal and ore processing facilities

In the 1970s (and probably earlier), lead in Washington's air posed a significant public health problem. While all areas in Washington met the national air standard, children and adults were exposed to what we now know to be unhealthy lead levels. Beginning in 1975, with the phase out of leaded gasoline, lead levels in air began to decline, along with measurements of lead in children's blood. Lead levels in air also declined as smelters near Tacoma (Ruston) and Seattle (Harbor Island) ceased operation. Today, the levels of lead are nearly 100 times lower than those measured at some Washington locations in the 1970s. With even more stringent standards today, Washington meets the lead air quality standard.

Maintaining clean air

To ensure the air continues to meet air quality standards, we monitor lead on Beacon Hill in Seattle in parternship with the local clean air agency. We also monitored lead at two small airports for a year because they once emitted high levels of lead. The monitoring showed very low levels of lead. The study provided confidence that lead levels throughout the state meet air quality standards.

What you can do

You can lower the chances of exposure to lead in your home by taking these steps:

  • Inspect and maintain all painted surfaces to prevent paint deterioration.
  • Address water damage quickly and completely.
  • Keep your home clean and dust-free.
  • Use only cold water to prepare food and drinks.
  • Flush water outlets used for drinking or food preparation.
  • Clean debris out of faucet aerators on a regular basis.
  • Wash children's hands, bottles, pacifiers, and toys often.
  • Teach children to wipe and remove their shoes and wash hands after playing outdoors.
  • Ensure that your family members eat well-balanced meals. Children with healthy diets absorb less lead.

When lead is released into the air from industrial sources or vehicles it can travel a long distance before reaching the ground. In some instances, it can move from the soil into groundwater.

Federal and state regulatory standards have helped to reduce the amount of lead in air, drinking water, soil, consumer products, food, and occupational settings.

Lead exposure can cause damage to many parts of the body. There is no known safe level of exposure to lead. Compared to adults, children are more likely to be harmed by lead. Even low levels can damage children's nervous systems resulting in:

  • Lower IQs.
  • Learning disabilities.
  • Behavior problems.

In adults, the cardiovascular system is most sensitive to low-level lead exposure. Learn more about the dangers of lead poisoning.