FACT: Lead emitted from aircraft using leaded aviation gasoline (avgas) is
currently the largest source of lead in air in the United States, constituting about
50% of lead emissions in the 2005 National Emissions Inventory [U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA) 2010].
AIRCRAFT AIR POLUTION: ABOUT AVGAS
Lead is a harmful and toxic chemical that causes a broad range of adverse health
effects when absorbed by the body. These include damage to the central nervous
system, cardiovascular function, kidneys, immune system, and red blood cells.
Children are particularly vulnerable to lead exposure, in part because they are
more likely to ingest lead and in part because their developing bodies are more
sensitive to the effects of lead. No amount of lead exposure is safe.
It has been more than 14 years since the U.S. EPA required the complete
phase-out of lead in automobile gasoline. When finally closing the books on
leaded auto gasoline in 1996, the Administrator of the EPA recognized, “the
elimination of lead from gas is one of the great environmental achievements of
all time.” Despite this acknowledgement, general aviation aircraft fuel still
contains lead and is the largest single source of lead emissions in the U.S.
Leaded aviation fuel is primarily used in piston engine aircrafts, which typically
fly in and out of small and municipal airports. The EPA has found that communities
living near airports, children attending school near airports, and airplane pilots,
student-trainees, and passengers are all at risk of exposure to lead emissions
from these aircraft. The EPA also noted potential harm could come from deposits
of lead that collect on plants in agricultural areas where piston engine planes
are used. Source: Friends of the Earth, Dec 2010, Excerpt from Press Release
The following information has been copied from an EPA fact sheet, available on
Lead Emissions from Piston-Engine Aircraft
There are almost 20,000 airport facilities in the U.S. where leaded avgas is used.
Aviation gasoline is utilized in general aviation aircraft with piston engines, which
are generally used for instructional flying, air taxi activities, and personal
transportation. Lead is not used in jet fuel, the fuel utilized by most commercial
Emissions of lead from piston-engine aircraft using leaded avgas comprise
approximately half of the national inventory of lead emitted to air.
EPA estimates that approximately 14.6 billion gallons of leaded avgas were
consumed between 1970 and 2007, emitting approximately 34,000 tons of lead.
Airport-specific lead inventories for 2008 are currently undergoing review by
state, local and tribal authorities and will be completed in 2010.
Lead Concentrations and Exposure to Lead from Piston-Engine Aircraft
Lead concentrations in air increase with proximity to airports where piston-engine
Lead emitted in-flight is expected to disperse widely in the environment because
lead is emitted as a small particle and can travel widely before depositing to soil,
water, vegetation or other surfaces.
Approximately 16 million people live within one kilometer of the approximately
20,000 airport facilities in the U.S.
Over 3 million children attend school within one kilometer of the approximately
20,000 airport facilities.
outdoor air, with average concentrations of lead in air decreasing 91 percent
between 1980 and 2008.
Much of this dramatic improvement occurred as a result of the permanent
phase-out of lead in motor vehicle gasoline. Reductions in the emission of lead
have also been accomplished through controls on waste incineration and other
Lead is a multimedia pollutant and EPA is concerned about continued emissions
of lead to air.
Lead that is emitted into the air can be inhaled or, after it settles out of the air,
can be ingested. Ingestion of lead that has settled onto surfaces is the main way
children are exposed to lead originally released into the air.
Once in the body, lead is rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream and results in a
broad range of health effects.
Children are particularly vulnerable to the effects of lead. Exposures to low levels
of lead early in life have been linked to effects on IQ, learning, memory, and behavior.
There is no identified safe level of lead in the body.
On October 15, 2008, EPA substantially strengthened the national ambient air
quality standards (NAAQS) for lead, finding that serious health effects occur at
much lower levels of lead in blood than previously identified.
A petition requesting the EPA to ban the use of lead in aviation fuel (avgas) was
circulated recently by a group of concerned residents living near Santa Monica
Airport, California. If you wish to sign the petition, please click on the link below
QUIET SKIES COALITION PO Box 956 Wainscott, NY 11975