Many Propeller Planes Still Run On Toxic Lead Fuel

May 5, 2014- Residents living near the Santa Monica Airport and the almost 20,000 other general-aviation airports in the U.S. are growing increasingly concerned about an insidious problem posed by low-flying planes: toxic lead. More than 150,000 piston-engine planes used for noncommercial flights in the U.S. still use lead in their gasoline.

Last month, three environmental health groups filed a petition with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that calls on the agency to regulate aviation lead emissions. It is the latest move in a decade-plus public health campaign by Friends of the Earth, Physicians for Social Responsibility and Oregon Aviation Watch, including an initial petition and an unsuccessful lawsuit against the EPA in 2006 and 2012.

Aircraft are the leading source of airborne lead emissions in the U.S. While larger commercial planes and military jets use lead-free fuel, propeller planes that run on piston engines -- much like cars -- continue to burn leaded aviation gasoline, or avgas. Safety concerns are the main reason why planes still fill up with lead fuel. Two grams of tetraethyl lead are added to each gallon to increase the octane, which boosts performance, reduces wear and tear, and protects against spontaneous combustion (“knocking”) that can lead to engine explosions. The U.S. transitioned from lead to other anti-knocking agents, such as ethanol, beginning in 1973.

Once burned and emitted from a plane, lead from gasoline can contaminate not only the air, but also waterways, livestock, crops and soil. Some 16 million people live within a kilometer of airports where avgas is used.

To read more click here.

Carnow Conibear and Associates is a demonstrated leader in the occupational and environmental health professions since 1975. To find out more, click here or call us at (800) 860-4486.