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 20 years since the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency required the complete phase-out of lead in automobile gasoline. When finally closing the books on leaded auto gasoline in 1996, the EPA administrator recognized that “[t]he elimination of lead from gas is one of the great environmental achievements of all time.” Despite this acknowledgement, the fuel used in general-aviation aircraft still contains lead and is the largest single source of lead emissions in the U.S. General-aviation aircraft are all planes other than commercial passenger airliners.
Leaded aviation fuel (avgas) is primarily used in piston-engine aircraft, which typically fly in and out of small municipal airports, like the Hayward Airport. 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. Sixteen million people live and 3 million children go to school near airports emitting lead from avgas.
The EPA has yet to act to get the lead out of avgas despite litigation and two petitions by Friends of the Earth, stating that it will make an endangerment finding by 2018. Even after that the EPA would still have to initiate a lengthy public process of proposing and adopting specific lead emission standards for avgas.
Bay Area Air Quality Management District