Originally published January 28 2015
Government report reveals nearly 1,000 tons of lead dust dumped on population every year from airplanes
by Ethan A. Huff, staff writer
(NaturalNews) Leaded gasoline is a thing of the past for automobiles. But a recent government report explains that leaded "avgas," as it is called for aircraft, is still being used to the tune of about 225 million gallons annually by piston-engine aircraft, which release nearly 1,000 tons of lead dust annually over homes, crop fields and bodies of water.
Situated at the 20,000-or-so airports across America are roughly 159,000 piston-engine aircraft that still use leaded avgas. Though current avgas formulations contain less lead than they used to -- the 100-octane low-lead (LL) variety currently in use contains less than half the amount contained in the 115LL variety commonly used after WWII -- lead pollution from this fuel is still a major problem.
"Lead is a well-documented neurotoxicant that is particularly harmful to children, who are typically exposed when they ingest or inhale lead-containing dust in the home," wrote Rebecca Kessler for Environmental Health Perspectives (EHP).
"In recent years, serious harm to cognitive and behavioral functions including intelligence, attention, and motor skills has been demonstrated in children with much less lead in their blood than previously thought to cause harm, and it is now understood there is no safe level of lead exposure."
Piston-engine aircraft generate 550 tons of air lead pollution annually According to the latest data provided by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), piston-engine aircraft generate 57 percent of the roughly 964 tons of air lead pollution generated annually, or about 550 tons. This lead ends up concentrating not only around airports but also in other areas, including around agricultural and residential areas.
"While a little less than half of lead emissions from piston-engine aircraft linger near airports, the remainder disperses far and wide during flight," explained Kessler. "The potential exists for lead from avgas to contaminate water bodies and enter fish tissue, and low-flying piston-engine crop dusters may deposit it directly onto food crops or livestock."
Current National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) mandate that lead pollution around airports must remain below 0.15 micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m3). But some airports are pushing the limits at the same time as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is considering lowering them.
High lead concentrations around airports poisoning children The EPA says general-aviation pilots -- that is, pilots of civilian, non-commercial airplanes -- and frequent fliers have the highest risk of exposure to lead from avgas. The EPA also estimates that the roughly 16 million people, 3 million of whom are children, living near airports where avgas is used may also be at risk.
A Duke University study published in 2011 found that children living within 500 meters of airports where avgas is used had blood lead levels that averaged 4.4 percent higher than children living more than 2,000 meters away from these airports. The further away children live from airports, the lower their blood lead levels, the study found.
Potential alternatives to 100LL leaded fuel are currently being investigated. But part of the problem lies in the fact that lead has long served as the premier additive for preventing possible detonation and engine damage in smaller aircraft. Peter White, head of the new Fuels Program Office at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), refers to it as a "magic elixir for detonation prevention."
"There's really no other chemical that precludes detonation like lead does," he is quoted as saying.
The FAA announced in 2012 that it hopes to completely phase out leaded gasoline by 2018.
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