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.
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.