Climate & Energy Blog

Lead in Aviation Fuel

Posted Dec. 7, 2010 / Posted by: Marcie Keever

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 more than 14 years since the U.S. EPA required the complete phase-out of lead in automobile gasoline.  When finally closing the books on leaded auto gasoline in 1996, the Administrator of the EPA recognized, “[t]he elimination of lead from gas is one of the great environmental achievements of all time.”  Despite this acknowledgement, general aviation aircraft fuel still contains lead and is the largest single source of lead emissions in the U.S.

Leaded aviation fuel is primarily used in piston engine aircrafts, which typically fly in and out of small and municipal airports. 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. The EPA also noted potential harm could come from deposits of lead that collect on plants in agricultural areas where piston engine planes are used.

Friends of the Earth, represented by the Environmental Law and Justice Clinic at Golden Gate University School of Law, filed a petition in 2006 urging the EPA to phase out lead in aviation fuel to protect human health and the environment.  We began pushing the EPA to address the danger lead in aviation fuel poses to public health in 2003.

Read our latest press release on lead in aviation fuel.

Read our 2006 petition to U.S. EPA asking it to phase out lead in aviation fuel

Visit U.S. EPA’s webpage on lead and aviation: http://www.epa.gov/otaq/aviation.htm

Find out the sources of lead where you live: http://www.nrdc.org/health/effects/lead/lead_emitters_maps.asp

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