NEW YORK — Several community environmental groups partnering with Earthjustice and Santa Clara County in California to address the Environmental Protection Agency airborne lead pollution.

Lead aviation fuel is used in approximately 170,000 piston-engine aircraft that land in 20,000 different airports across the United States. The EPA does not regulate this form of emissions despite the following states having the highest lead emissions: California, Florida, Arizona, Washington and Colorado.

This kind of aircraft is often used for private plans, performance flights and other missions between 300 and 400 miles.

Kelly Lester, an Earthjustice attorney, said, “Lead is widely known to be toxic, particularly to children, yet EPA is neglecting the largest remaining source of lead emissions. EPA must start the process of regulating leaded aviation gas now if it takes seriously its commitments to public health and environmental justice.”

On August 3, 2021, Santa Clara County released a peer-reviewed study showing that leaded aviation gasoline increased blood lead levels among thousands of children living nearby a local general aviation airport. Children living downwind of the airport had blood lead level increases on par with those detected during the peak of the Flint Water Crisis.

Over 5 million people, including over 360,000 children under five-years-old, live near at least one airport where piston-engine aircraft operate, according to EPA. Most general aviation airports with the highest lead emissions are located in communities of color, compounding health issues experienced within those marginalized neighborhoods.

The petition wrote, “It is unconscionable that EPA has failed to regulate the largest remaining source of lead emissions to the environment. Regulating leaded aircraft gasoline is an important step in fulfilling the Biden-Harris administration’s commitments to protect children’s health and promote environmental justice.”

The Trump administration unveiled a plan in 2018 called “Federal Lead Action Plan to Reduce Childhood Lead Exposures and Associated Health Impacts” alongside the EPA, the former United States Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson and the former United States Health and Human Services Deputy, Secretary Eric Hargan. At this time the EPA pledged to conduct a study regarding lead avgas, but since the transition of Presidential power, the Biden administration has yet to address the former President’s plan.

In 2006, advocacy and activist group Friends of the Earth petitioned the EPA to initiate an endangerment finding for leaded avgas to regulate this form of emissions. In 2012, the agency said it planned to issue an endangerment finding in 2015. Still, six years later, no findings have been reported. 

Executive director of Alaska Community Action on Toxics, “Alaska has 400 public airports, many in close proximity to Alaska Native communities and in diverse urban communities where children and other residents may be exposed to dangerous levels of lead.”

Five Colorado airports are on the list of the top 100 lead emitting airports list and are as follows:

  • Centennial Airport – Englewood, CO
  • Greeley-Weld County Airport – Greeley, CO
  • Pueblo Memorial – Pueblo, CO
  • Northern Colorado Regional Airport – Fort Collins, CO
  • Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport – Broomfield, CO

To see the top 100 lead emitting airports across the U.S., click here.