Integrating susceptibility into environmental policy: An analysis of the national ambient air quality standard for lead

Ramya Chari, Thomas A. Burke, Ronald H. White, Mary A. Fox

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Susceptibility to chemical toxins has not been adequately addressed in risk assessment methodologies. As a result, environmental policies may fail to meet their fundamental goal of protecting the public from harm. This study examines how characterization of risk may change when susceptibility is explicitly considered in policy development; in particular we examine the process used by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to set a National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) for lead. To determine a NAAQS, EPA estimated air lead-related decreases in child neurocognitive function through a combination of multiple data elements including concentration-response (CR) functions. In this article, we present alternative scenarios for determining a lead NAAQS using CR functions developed in populations more susceptible to lead toxicity due to socioeconomic disadvantage. The use of CR functions developed in susceptible groups resulted in cognitive decrements greater than original EPA estimates. EPA's analysis suggested that a standard level of 0.15 μg/m3 would fulfill decision criteria, but by incorporating susceptibility we found that options for the standard could reasonably be extended to lower levels. The use of data developed in susceptible populations would result in the selection of a more protective NAAQS under the same decision framework applied by EPA. Results are used to frame discussion regarding why cumulative risk assessment methodologies are needed to help inform policy development.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1077-1096
Number of pages20
JournalInternational journal of environmental research and public health
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2012


  • Air standards
  • Cumulative risk assessment
  • Lead
  • Neurocognitive functioning
  • Nonchemical stressors
  • Policy analysis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pollution
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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