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The Right to Know Reader: EPA Still Allowing Use of Toxic Lead

A small private plane tied down next to the runway at a regional airport.

Leaded gas used in small airplanes (commonly referred to as “avgas”) is the single largest source of lead emissions in the country.

Darryl Brooks / Shutterstock

(The Right to Know Reader is a series of blog posts to educate families on the toxic chemicals in our daily lives. Earthjustice is working to enact stronger protections from these toxic chemicals for our families, communities and the environment because everyone has a right to know the truth about harmful toxins.)

The fact that lead is a dangerous neurotoxin isn’t exactly news. Lead-based paint was banned in 1978, and even now if you buy a home built prior to that, the seller has to inform you of any remaining lead hazards. In addition, the U.S. EPA began work on getting lead out of gasoline used in cars in the early ‘70s.

But did you know that lead is still allowed in gasoline used in small propeller-driven airplanes across the nation?

Leaded gas used to power the piston engines in small airplanes (commonly referred to as “avgas”) is the single largest source of lead emissions in the United States. It poses a serious threat to the 3 million children who attend schools near airports where leaded gas may be used, and it’s also a threat to the 16 million people who live near the 20,000 airports where leaded gas is used.

Children are particularly susceptible to lead, which destroys nerve tissue and causes serious health issues including behavioral problems, increased blood pressure, nerve damage and lower IQ. New scientific studies show that kids suffer irreversible neurological and cognitive damage from exposure to even small amounts of lead. Studies further show that even children living more than half a mile from an airport where leaded gas is used have significantly elevated levels of lead in their blood.

There are parts of our country where the amount of lead in the air exceeds basic health standards set by the EPA. Los Angeles, for example, has some of the highest lead-emitting airports in the country. This lead pollution threatens the large number of families and communities, especially those low-income, communities of color living nearest to these airports.

Earthjustice is working with clients like Friends of the Earth to urge the EPA to get the lead out of small aircraft emissions. As a first step to taking this action, EPA just has to recognize that lead in avgas contributes to air pollution that may threaten human health and welfare.

Although the EPA has been collecting data since 2006, it still claims more studies are needed.

How long do you need to collect data on something that is so obvious?

This past April, Earthjustice—representing Friends of the Earth as well as the Physicians for Social Responsibility and Oregon Aviation Watch—asked the EPA to take the first step in removing this toxin from the community in light of all the scientific information that has already been collected.

Educating families about the toxic chemicals in our daily lives and working to enact stronger protections from lead are just a few of the ways Earthjustice is protecting the health of our families, communities and the environment. Every family has a right to know the truth about the toxins that threaten their health. Find out how Earthjustice is helping to protect you from harmful toxins.

Roshni Karwal also contributed to this blog post.

About the Earthjustice Blog

unEARTHED is a forum for the voices and stories of the people behind Earthjustice's work. The views and opinions expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent the opinion or position of Earthjustice or its board, clients, or funders. Learn more about Earthjustice.