Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued 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. Lead has been banned from paints and automobile gasoline, but the toxic chemical still remains in the gasoline used by small, propeller-driven airplanes and other general aviation aircraft. Children are particularly susceptible to the harmful effects of lead, and research shows that children who live near general aviation airports have elevated blood lead levels.
EPA had previously set a deadline of mid- to late 2015 to issue its official determination that lead emissions from aviation gasoline could endanger public health and welfare. But In today’s response, EPA pushed that schedule back by three years, with a final determination not coming until 2018—fifteen years after Friends of the Earth first called on EPA to address this issue and decades after EPA first recognized the potential impact of lead in aviation fuel.
Earthjustice and the Golden Gate University Environmental Law and Justice Clinic filed the petition in April 2014 on behalf of Friends of the Earth, Physicians for Social Responsibility and Oregon Aviation Watch. Statements from each of these organizations is included below:
Statement from Kathy Attar, Physicians for Social Responsibility's Toxics Program Manager:
“The science is clear. There is no “safe” level of blood lead, or exposure to lead. Research has found that even very low levels of lead exposure can have a detrimental impact on a child’s IQ, likelihood of having a learning disability and educational attainment. That’s why the law protects us from lead in paint and in our automobiles. Resolving lead in aviation fuel will benefit our communities through improved health and educational outcomes and decreased economic costs."
Statement from Miki Barnes, Oregon Aviation Watch's President:
"EPA's continued dragging of its feet on the endangerment finding is disappointing and inexcusable. It is unnecessarily exposing children and adults to a known and well-documented pernicious toxin."
Statement from Marcie Keever, Friends of the Earth’s Legal Director:
“EPA’s findings, coupled with its repeated conclusion that lead is extremely toxic to humans, wildlife and the environment and causes health effects even at low doses indicate that EPA should take action immediately to protect public health. The EPA’s continued failure to do what the law requires and address this pollution is especially frustrating when the health of airport workers, pilots, passengers and surrounding communities from ongoing exposure to leaded aviation gasoline continues to hang in the balance.”
Statement from Jonathan J. Smith, Earthjustice’s lead counsel on this issue:
“We’ve known for decades that lead emissions can endanger public health, especially children’s health. And general aviation is the largest source of lead emissions in the country. So it’s a no-brainer that lead emissions can adversely affect the millions of people who live and work near general aviation airports across the country. EPA’s delay in coming to this conclusion is further delay in protecting communities from the risks of lead pollution.”