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Lead in outdoor air

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The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is committed to protecting air quality, public health, and the environment for all people across Colorado. One of the department’s public health goals is minimizing lead exposure, especially for children.

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Sources of lead in outdoor air

In Colorado, several sources release lead into the air. These include industrial processes, dust released during mining, and leaded aviation fuel.

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Regulating and monitoring lead in air

Colorado regulates lead under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s National Ambient Air Quality Standards. These federal air quality standards set emissions limits for pollutants such as lead. If a facility that isn’t an airport emits over 0.5 tons of lead per year, they are subject to lead monitoring by the state in order to ensure compliance with the federal standard. For airports, this standard is set at 1 ton per year. Recent available data indicate no facilities in Colorado report amounts over either of these thresholds. Therefore the department is not monitoring for lead under the federal air quality requirements.

Colorado monitors lead as an air toxic. The department’s Air Pollution Control Division conducts ambient air monitoring for lead at a site in Grand Junction and is working to establish new ambient air monitoring sites as part of its work implementing statutory requirements for air toxics.

Nationwide, lead levels in the air continued to decrease between 2010 and 2022. Air quality data in Colorado align with these national trends. Available air quality measurements indicate the state is well below the federal standards for lead in the air.

For more information on Colorado's past and current ambient air monitoring for lead, explore the air division's annual Ambient Air Monitoring Network Plan. You can find the plans under “annual network plans” on this webpage.

For more general information on lead air pollution and potential health impacts, visit the EPA’s website.  

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Lead in aviation gas

Some airplanes use fuel called aviation gas, or “avgas” as fuel. This fuel currently contains lead. Commercial jets do not use leaded aviation gas. Small, piston-engine aircraft, such as propeller or rotary aircraft, commonly use leaded aviation gas. These aircraft fly in and out of and refuel at smaller airports called general aviation airports. According to the EPA, piston-engine aircraft that operate on leaded fuel are the largest single source of lead emissions into the air. People can be exposed to lead in air and soil from this fuel. 

The EPA, in consultation with the Federal Aviation Administration, has the authority to regulate aircraft emissions. For information about how the federal government is addressing lead emissions from aircraft, visit the EPA website or the Federal Aviation Administration website on this topic. 

For information about reducing exposure, please read our lead in aviation gas fact sheet.

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Lead and health

Lowering exposure to lead from all sources lowers the risk of health impacts. Visit the Colorado Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program web page to learn about common sources of lead, how to get your child tested, and steps you can take to reduce risk.

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Testing for lead in and around your home

If you decide to test for the presence of lead dust in your home, the Air Pollution Control Division recommends contacting a certified lead evaluation firm to hire a trained and certified lead risk assessor. Certified lead risk assessors are trained to test for lead-based paint hazards, including what is in the dust and soil from lead-based paint. If you are concerned about lead from other sources, ask the company if their testing methods are reliable and accurate for the specific source you are concerned about.

The current list of certified firms is available on the state's lead testing website.  

CDPHE also has a list of labs certified to test for lead in air samples.

 

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Contact us

For air quality questions or comments, contact cdphe.commentsapcd@state.co.us
For health questions or comments, contact cdphe_toxcall@state.co.us.