Addressing Lead From Airplanes

Although lead was removed from automobile and other transportation in the late 90’s and there is no safe limit for exposure to lead, airplane fuel still contains lead. In fact, lead from airplane fuel is the single largest source of lead emissions in the United States. Since planes emit lead while in flight, this toxicant can disperse across broad areas and contaminate soil, water, and communities. This problem is more than an abstract issue. Children living near airports have elevated levels of lead in their blood, significantly impacting a potential 16 million Americans that live within a mile of an airport.

The real question is this – why do we still allow lead in aviation fuel when studies have shown that as much as 80% of airplanes can run on lead-free fuel sources? One reason is that the EPA, which has authority to regulate lead if it issues an endangerment finding, has failed to regulate lead despite numerous requests to do so. Another reason is that state and local governments have failed to take action. Local entities can require unleaded gasoline or tax the use of leaded gasoline in airports, but have not done so.

Facilitating lead free aviation fuel is important. Pew Research has estimated that removal of lead from aviation fuel will result in an almost 6% decrease in national child blood lead levels and a saving of $262 million in ancillary benefits. New York City, which is serviced by three airports, would receive a particular benefit from the removal of lead in fuel. To facilitate this removal, contact your local and state representatives and urge a tax on leaded aviation fuel.