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.
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