EPA Endangered Lead Emissions from Leaded Aircraft Engine Fuel

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The proposed endangerment finding, if finalized, is an important step forward in tackling the largest remaining source of lead air pollution.

WASHINGTON (October 7, 2022) – Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a proposed determination that lead emissions from aircraft operating on leaded fuel cause or contribute to air pollution that is can reasonably foresee that it will endanger public health and welfare. Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA reviews information about air pollutants and sources of air pollution to determine if they threaten human health or well-being. It’s called an “endangerment finding” — a first step in using the EPA’s authority to tackle this source of lead pollution.

“As far as our children are concerned, the science is clear, exposure to lead can have irreversible and permanent health effects,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan. “Planes that use leaded fuel are the main source of airborne lead emissions in the country. Today’s proposal is an important step forward as we work to reduce lead exposure and protect children’s health.

While airborne lead levels in the United States have decreased by 99% since 1980, aircraft that run on leaded fuel are the largest remaining source of airborne lead emissions. The majority of aircraft that run on leaded aviation gasoline are piston engine aircraft. They are usually small planes that carry 2 to 10 passengers. Jet aircraft used for commercial transportation do not run on leaded fuel.

This endangerment proposal will be subject to public notice and comment, and after evaluating comments on the proposal, EPA expects to release any final endangerment findings in 2023. EPA is not proposing no lead emission standards for aircraft engines with this action. The EPA’s endangerment review is a first step toward enforcing EPA’s authority to address lead pollution. If the proposed finding is finalized, the EPA will subsequently propose regulatory standards for lead emissions from aircraft engines.

Exposure to lead can come from several sources, including lead paint, contaminated soil, industrial emissions from battery recycling or metal processing, and burning lead-containing fuel or waste. Children’s exposure to lead can have irreversible and permanent health effects. No safe blood lead levels in children have been identified. Even low blood lead levels have been shown to affect IQ, attention span, and academic achievement. In adults, health effects from lead exposure can include cardiovascular effects, increased blood pressure and incidence of hypertension, decreased kidney function, and reproductive problems.

The Biden-Harris administration has taken significant steps to safely replace leaded aviation gas. Earlier this year, the FAA and the aviation and energy industries announced the Eliminate Aviation Gasoline Lead Emissions (EAGLE) initiative, an effort to switch piston-engine aircraft to unleaded fuel. Already, the FAA has approved the safe use of unleaded fuel that can be used in a large number of piston engine aircraft, as well as other unleaded fuels for specific aircraft.

Learn more about the EPA’s proposed endangerment finding here.

Additional information regarding FAA initiatives to safely phase out the use of leaded fuels can be found here.

Click here to read the full press release on the EPA website.

© Copyright 2022 United States Environmental Protection AgencyNational Law Review, Volume XII, Number 280

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