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Getting the Lead Out of Aviation Fuel

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

What's at Stake

Avgas, as aviation fuel is commonly known, is the single largest source of lead emissions in the nation.

Case Overview

The word “unleaded” is ubiquitous at gas stations across the nation, thanks to the successful campaign to purge gasoline of toxic lead by the mid-1990s. Unfortunately, aviation fuel hasn’t received the same attention.

Avgas, as aviation fuel is commonly known, is the single largest source of lead emissions in the nation. There is no safe threshold for lead exposure. The EPA estimates that 16 million people live and 3 million children attend school near the 22,000 airports where avgas may be in use.

In 2006, Friends of the Earth petitioned the EPA, requesting that the agency make a determination that lead in avgas contributes to air pollution that may threaten human health and welfare. After six years of inaction, Earthjustice filed suit in 2012 to force the agency to deal with this public health problem. In 2014, the groups again petitioned EPA to declare that lead in aviation fuel is a danger to the public.

Case ID


Case Updates

January 27, 2015 | Legal Document

EPA Response Letter to AVGAS Petition

A response to a petition filed by environmental groups urging the agency to address lead emissions from aviation gasoline –– the largest source of airborne lead emissions in the country

April 21, 2014 | Legal Document

Petition for Reconsideration

Friends of the Earth, Physicians for Social Responsibility, and Oregon Aviation Watch, represented by Earthjustice, asking the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to take action to address harms caused by lead emissions generated by the continued use of leaded aviation gasoline (avgas).

June 25, 2013 | In the News: San Diego Union-Tribune

EPA Reports High Lead Levels at Small Airports

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the results of lead monitoring conducted at 17 general aviation airports around the country. EPA’s findings from the 17 airports indicate that two airports in California, McClellan-Palomar Airport in San Diego County and San Carlos Airport in San Mateo County, exceed the legal limit for lead in the air and air quality standards set by EPA for lead and may endanger public health. Lead, a component in the aviation fuel of light aircraft, is a suspected carcinogen and a cause of behavioral and learning disabilities in children.

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