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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Lead pollution from small planes threatens human health, EPA finds

By Timothy Puko Washington Post

The Environmental Protection Agency Wednesday announced it has determined that lead emitted from airplanes is a danger to public health, opening the door for the agency’s first-ever limits on lead fuel in aviation.

The move puts the Biden administration in the middle of a brewing fight over how long airports – particularly smaller ones – can continue selling leaded gasoline, despite the health hazards from this powerful neurotoxin. More than 170,000 smaller planes, known as piston-engine aircraft, still use leaded gasoline, according to the EPA, and there is an ongoing dispute about how quickly this form of fuel can be phased out at thousands of airports nationwide.

The agency last year first proposed the move. It is a formal step known as an “endangerment finding,” which now obligates the agency under the Clean Air Act to set new rules on what aircraft engines can emit.

“The science is clear: exposure to lead can cause irreversible and lifelong health effects in children,” the EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in a statement. “Aircraft that use leaded fuel are the dominant source of lead emissions in our air.”

The EPA and the Federal Aviation Administration have already begun considering their options, the EPA said. That work is happening as Congress also mulls a long-term reauthorization of the FAA, including a bipartisan proposal that passed the House that would effectively require small airports to continue selling leaded gasoline.

In a statement, a coalition of 10 aviation industry groups, including the National Air Transportation Association, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association and the American Petroleum Institute, said they are working with the administration toward, “the ultimate elimination of lead fuel from a gas.’’

Commercial jets do not use leaded fuel, so the rules would affect only smaller planes that fly two to 10 passengers, the EPA said. On average these aircraft are nearly 50 years old. While the planes are only a small subsection of the aviation industry, the agency said they still pose risks near their airports, many of which are mostly in or near poor or minority communities.

Lead exposure can cause behavioral problems, lower IQs and slow growth, the EPA said. And the agency has been trying to strengthen rules against lead pollution, partly in response to a new scientific consensus that lead can harm children at even the most microscopic levels.