Lead is a toxic metal that has already been banned in paint and other products found in and around our homes. Lead also can be emitted into the air from industrial sources and leaded aviation gasoline, and lead can enter drinking water from plumbing materials. Lead may cause a range of health effects, from behavioral problems and learning disabilities, to seizures and death. Children six years old and under are most at risk.
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]. Although leaded gasoline for automobiles was phased out of use in the United States by 1995, lead is still permitted in avgas. Lead is added to avgas to achieve the high octane required for the engines of piston-driven airplanes.
Previous research indicates that children’s’ blood lead levels increase near airports. A study at the Santa Monica Airport in California found lead levels to be significantly higher than background levels in a residential neighborhood close to the airport runway. Thus, the combustion of leaded avgas by small airplane engines may pose a health risk to children who live or attend school near airports. The lead in air surrounding airports can be inhaled directly, or the lead may be ingested by children after it settles into soil or dust (U.S. EPA 2010).
The U.S. EPA estimates that people living within 1 km of airports are at risk of being exposed to lead from avgas (Hitchings 2010). The U.S. EPA further notes that about 16 million people live within 1 km of an airport with planes using avgas, and 3 million children attend school within 1 km of these airports (U.S. EPA 2010). So why isn’t the EPA doing anything to protect these 19 million people. Tell the EPA to get the lead out of their pants and the planes and to do their job. It can be done, it should be done, and with your help it will be fast tracked.