More than 50 years after the US began phasing lead out of the gasoline supply for automobiles, leaded fuel remains in use all around the country by small, piston-engine aircraft, poisoning the air breathed in by millions of children who live in close proximity to the country’s general aviation airports.
On July 28, six weeks after Quartz published its investigation into the maddening persistence of leaded aviation gas, a Congressional subcommittee held hearings on the fuel’s toxicity, and on the slow pace of progress in developing unleaded alternatives.
A range of witnesses offered poignant testimony about the problem (more on them below). But some of the most powerful messages came from the dais, where members of the House Oversight Committee’s subcommittee on the environment largely came together in a bipartisan plea for federal agencies to move faster in phasing out leaded airplane fuel—and expressed bipartisan shock at the scope of the problem and how hidden it has been from the public agenda...
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From the House Committee on Oversight and Reform | Chairwoman Carolyn B. Maloney
On Thursday, July 28, 2022, at 2:00 p.m. ET, Rep. Ro Khanna, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Environment, will hold a hybrid hearing to examine the health harms associated with leaded aviation fuel and its impacts on American communities and the environment.
Airborne lead exposure from aviation fuel is an urgent yet little-known health crisis impacting millions of people who live near general aviation airports in the United States. Lead is highly toxic and a probable carcinogen, causing health effects such as brain damage, learning disabilities, reduced fertility, nerve damage, and death. Despite the dangers associated with it, many airplanes continue to utilize leaded fuel, putting the health and safety of Americans—especially children—at risk.
Despite clear evidence of harm and the existence of unleaded fuel alternatives, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have failed for many years to take meaningful action to curb the use of leaded aviation fuel. Simultaneously, the fossil fuel and aviation industries have lobbied to delay efforts to phase out leaded fuel.
In the United States, general aviation airports are often located in low-income communities and communities of color, causing those communities to suffer disproportionately from the health impacts of leaded aviation fuel. Lead exposure from aviation fuel is an ongoing environmental justice crisis. This hearing will examine the impacts of leaded aviation fuel on American communities and on the environment to better understand the urgency of permanently phasing out the dangerous substance.
See more here.
While Jan Burton’s piece in the Camera from May about preserving Boulder Airport (BDU) has several problems, here is one in particular: Burton claims that if airport land was repurposed, the FAA would require reimbursement of $100 million.
Rather than speculation, consider actual data provided by city staff on FAA subsidies listed in a March 3, 2018, memorandum from city staff titled, “Debt Analysis … Including Repayment of Airport Projects and Properties…” which is public information.
If the BDU land was repurposed, the city would need to return unused grant funding. In 2018, the prorated amount was estimated to total $2.9 million. FAA records show BDU has taken around $5 million in subsidies since then.
Separately, FAA subsidies purchased 49 acres of land. (The city owns the balance of roughly 133 acres.) If Boulder were to repurpose that parcel, it would need to be sold at market value and the proceeds given to the FAA. The report assumed a valuation of $2.2 million per acre, for $106 million total.
Thus, if those acres are sold to a third party for development there is no cost to the city.
Only if Boulder buys those acres would there be a $100 million-plus cost. However, the city would gain a precious asset that could generate income in perpetuity, would likely appreciate, and could help achieve city climate and equity goals.
Alternatively, the entire acreage could be sold and Boulder would earn millions.
I believe it is irresponsible to lead people to believe the city would owe $100 million and get nothing in return. I sincerely hope the City Council is using due diligence in gathering accurate information about airport repurposing rather than relying on rumors from parties that have personal interests in BDU.
Anne Wilson, Boulder
See article here.
Jun 29, 2022
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Quiet Skies Caucus, led by Co-Chairs Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) and Congressman Stephen Lynch (D-MA) and Vice Chairs Congressman Mike Quigley (D-IL) and Congressman Tom Suozzi (D-NY), today announced they secured four provisions to combat aircraft noise in the House’s fiscal year 2023 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations bill. The provisions direct the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to engage with communities affected by aircraft noise, to prioritize the reduction of aircraft noise, to create a central repository for constituent complaints about aircraft noise, and to encourage the FAA to complete its ongoing evaluation of alternative metrics to current Day Night Level noise standards. The bill also provides support for all studies and programs directed at minimizing aircraft noise in affected communities.
The co-chairs and vice chairs released the statement below.
“As the leadership of the Quiet Skies Caucus, we hear from constituents daily about the negative impact of aircraft noise on their lives and health. The inclusion of these provisions is a victory for our constituents who live in areas heavily affected by aircraft noise.”
Now is a great time to contact your local elected representative and encourage them to support these efforts at a national level. Not sure who to contact? Find up to date information here.
Eliminating Lead Emissions From Small Aircraft Will Require Concerted Efforts Across the Aviation Sector, Says New Report
From the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine:
News Release | January 12, 2021WASHINGTON — Significantly reducing lead emissions from gasoline-powered aircraft will require the leadership and strategic guidance of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and a broad-based and sustained commitment by other government agencies and the nation’s pilots, airport managers, aviation fuel and service suppliers, and aircraft manufacturers, says a new congressionally mandated report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. While efforts are underway to develop an unleaded aviation fuel that can be used by the entire gasoline-powered fleet, the uncertainty of success means that other steps also should be taken to begin reducing lead emissions and exposures, the report says.
Small gasoline-powered aircraft are the single largest emitter of lead in the United States, as other major emission sources such as automobile gasoline have been addressed. A highly toxic substance that can result in an array of negative health effects in humans, lead is added to aviation gasoline to meet the performance and safety requirements of a sizable portion of the country’s gasoline-powered aircraft. When emitted from aircraft exhaust, lead can be inhaled by people living near and working at airports. Lead exposures also can occur from exhaust deposited on soil and other surfaces, spills and vapor emitted during refueling, and contact with residue left on aircraft engines and other components. Even at low exposures, as measured by blood lead levels, lead has been linked to effects such as decreased cognitive performance in children.
“Because there is no known safe level of lead in the blood, there is a compelling reason to reduce or eliminate lead emissions from small aircraft,” said Amy R. Pritchett, professor and head of the department of aerospace engineering at Pennsylvania State University and chair of the committee that wrote the report.
Gasoline-powered piston-engine aircraft perform critical societal functions, including medical airlifts, aerial firefighting, business transport, crop dusting, pilot training, and search and rescue. They are also commonly used for personal and recreational flying, and are critical for meeting transportation needs in rural and remote regions. About one-third of all gasoline-powered aircraft, which include some of the most heavily used small airplanes and helicopters, require leaded gasoline to provide needed octane levels. Due to the small market for aviation gasoline and limited fueling infrastructure at most of the country’s more than 13,000 airports, leaded aviation gasoline is usually the only fuel available to operators of small aircraft.
In order to reduce the environmental health risks caused by aviation lead, the FAA should coordinate efforts to reduce emissions and exposures in multiple ways, the report says. The FAA should work with other federal agencies, such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and organizations within the aviation community to initiate campaigns for education, training, and awareness of lead hazards and mitigation measures targeted to pilots, airport personnel, and aircraft technicians.
A concerted effort also is needed to motivate fuel refiners to reduce the amount of lead added to high-octane aviation gasoline, the report says. The FAA should explore policy options to achieve this, while prompting airports to add the fueling infrastructure needed to dispense more unleaded gasoline. The recertification requirements for aircraft that do not require high-octane fuel also should be eased, encouraging pilots to use lower octane unleaded fuel. The report further recommends that a goal and time frame be established, potentially with congressional direction, for all future aircraft that burn gasoline to be able to use unleaded fuel.
The report emphasizes that the elimination of lead from all aviation fuel should remain a public policy priority while these efforts to sustain progress in reducing aviation lead emissions and exposures continue. The FAA should continue to collaborate with the aviation industry and fuel suppliers in the search for a high-octane unleaded fuel that can be used by all gasoline-powered aircraft, the report stresses. The FAA also should collaborate with other government agencies such as NASA to promote the development, testing, and certification of emerging lead-free propulsion systems for small aircraft applications, including battery and hybrid electric systems.
The study — undertaken by the Committee on Lead Emissions From Piston-Powered General Aviation Aircraft — was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Transportation. The National Academies are private, nonprofit institutions that provide independent, objective analysis and advice to the nation to solve complex problems and inform public policy decisions related to science, technology, and medicine. They operate under an 1863 congressional charter to the National Academy of Sciences, signed by President Lincoln.
Andrew Robinson, Media Relations Associate
Office of News and Public Information
AER invited Miki Barnes of the environmental group Oregon Aviation Watch to comment on FAA’s EAGLE initiative. Following are her remarks:
Piston-engine aircraft (fixed wing and helicopters) are used primarily by flight training schools as well as private and recreational pilots based out of general aviation airports. Many also fly out of commercial facilities. Of the 20,000 airports in the U.S., 500 (2.5%), serve commercial airline passengers. The remaining 97.5% are categorized as general aviation (GA). The primary purpose of GA airports is to cater to the less than 1/4 of one percent of the U.S. population certified to fly out of these facilities.
For 70 years the use of leaded aviation gasoline (avgas) has remained unchanged. Though the damaging effects of this toxin prompted the removal of lead from automotive fuel more than 25 years ago, GA pilots continue to release 468 tons (936,000 lbs) of this neurotoxin into the atmosphere every single year.
On Feb. 23, 2022, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and industry stakeholders announced their Eliminate Aviation Gasoline Lead Emissions (EAGLE) initiative – a proposal that involves continuing to blanket communities across the country in aviation-generated lead emissions until the end of 2030. The FAA’s choice of acronyms is both ironic and noteworthy in light of a Feb. 17 article published in the journal Science revealing “Almost half of bald and golden eagles in the United States have lead poisoning.”
A review of past history suggests that the likelihood the FAA will identify an unleaded aviation fuel by the end of 2030 strains credulity. Eight years ago, the FAA announced its Piston Aviation Fuels Initiative (PAFI). At the time, it claimed an unleaded drop-in alternative would be available by 2018. Five years have elapsed since the agency failed to meet their deadline. The FAA is now saying it needs an additional nine years. Based on current emission levels, during that nine-year timeframe, an additional 4,212 tons (8,424,000 lbs) of lead will be released over homes, neighborhoods, schools, daycare centers, preschools, parks, churches, recreational areas, waterways and prime farmland.
In light of the many decades of inaction, postponement, and delay exhibited by the FAA, the time has come to immediately ban all aircraft that cannot use an unleaded fuel alternative.
According to the National Academy of Sciences February 2021 Consensus Study Report, Options for Reducing Lead Emissions from Piston Engine Aircraft, “At least 57 percent, and perhaps as much as 68 percent, of the current piston engine fleet could use UL94, which is the only existing grade of unleaded avgas.” (Pg. 82). The remaining lead emitting aircraft should be grounded until an unleaded option is available.
Per the Centers for Disease Control, “No safe blood lead level in children has been identified. Even low levels of lead in blood have been shown to affect IQ, ability to pay attention and academic achievement. And effects of lead exposure cannot be corrected.” Other negative health impacts include damage to the brain and nervous system, slowed growth and development, learning and behavior problems, hearing and speech problems, and increased juvenile delinquency. Adverse impacts in adults include coronary heart disease, reproductive problems, kidney ailments and increased violence.
FAA Administrator Steve Dickson characterized the EAGLE proposal as “a safe and practical path to a lead-free aviation system.” Apparently knowingly poisoning and compromising the health of children, low-income communities, and people of color who are disproportionately impacted by lead poisoning is acceptable to him; however, those bearing the brunt of this treatment might be far more inclined to describe the initiative as cruel, abusive, racist, discriminatory, and environmentally irresponsible.
In closing, the FAA has a lengthy history of forcing local communities to knowingly expose impacted residents with lead if the offending airport has received grant money from the FAA. This must stop! No government entity should have the right to use federal grant assurance obligations as an excuse for disempowering local communities and undermining democracy while relentlessly poisoning vulnerable residents with leaded aviation fuel emissions.
See full newsletter online here.
Santa Clara County House Reps Call on the Biden Admin to Help Protect Vulnerable Communities from Lead Exposure
February 23, 2022
Ahead of Key Meeting, Lofgren, Eshoo, Khanna, & Panetta Condemn the FAA’s Prior Lack of Cooperation on the Aviation Gas Emission Environmental Justice Crisis, Specifically at Reid-Hillview Airport
SAN JOSE, CA— As local Santa Clara County leaders plan to meet with representatives from the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on March 9, 2022, today, Santa Clara County’s Representatives in Congress – Zoe Lofgren (CA-19), Anna G. Eshoo (CA-18), Ro Khanna (CA-17), and Jimmy Panetta (CA-20) – sent a letter to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg calling on the DOT to make the nationwide elimination of leaded aviation gasoline (avgas) a priority to protect vulnerable communities.
The four Members of Congress expressed serious concerns about the federal government’s commitment to the environmental justice issue at play, pointing to the tragic situation near Reid-Hillview Airport in Santa Clara County. Lead exposure levels in the majority-minority area surrounding the airport are dangerously high, on par with or even worse than those found at the height of the Flint Water Crisis.
The Members wrote: “For the communities suffering daily from lead exposure due to avgas emissions, federal leadership to address this
environmental justice crisis is long overdue.”
In the letter, the Members condemned the FAA’s prior lack of cooperation on the environmental justice issue and cited examples whereby the FAA did not work with local governments to end the avgas crisis in disadvantaged communities between 2017 and 2022.
“We are concerned that the FAA’s actions are hindering local governments’ attempts to discontinue sale of the very fuel that is poisoning
disadvantaged communities of color with lead, rather than assisting with efforts to protect these communities from harm,” they wrote.
Lofgren, Eshoo, Khanna, and Panetta requested that the DOT swiftly directs the FAA to take four concrete actions to protect communities, including specific coordination with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to adopt a nationwide ban on leaded avgas as soon as possible.
The text of the full letter to Secretary Buttigieg follows and can be downloaded here.
The annual Aviation Noise and Emissions Symposium is happening in May. Two important speakers at the symposium are: Cindy Christiansen, Aviation-Impacted Communities Alliance (AICA) and Darlene Yaplee, Aviation-Impacted Communities Alliance and Concerned Residents of Palo Alto. You can find more information here.
2022 Program | Aviation Noise & Emissions Symposium 2022
Building Better in a Changing World The aviation industry is constantly moving forward with crafting improvements to aircraft and flight path noise and emissions impacts, but we are doing so now at an accelerated rate due to the pandemic. Changes in where people live and work has reshaped the blueprint of what needs to be considered throughout the development and planning of aviation systems.