The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a proposed determination that emissions of lead from aircraft that operate on leaded fuel cause or contribute to air pollution that may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health and welfare. Under the Clean Air Act, EPA reviews information on air pollutants and sources of air pollution to determine whether they threaten human health or welfare. This is referred to as an “endangerment finding” – a first step in using EPA’s authority to address this source of lead pollution.
“When it comes to our children the science is clear, exposure to lead can cause irreversible and life-long health effects,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan. “Aircraft that use leaded fuel are the dominant source of lead emissions to air in the country. Today’s proposal is an important step forward as we work to reduce lead exposure and protect children’s health.”
While levels of airborne lead in the United States have declined 99 percent since 1980, aircraft that operate on leaded fuel are the largest remaining source of lead emissions into the air. The majority of aircraft that operate on leaded aviation gasoline are piston-engine aircraft. These are typically small aircraft that carry 2-10 passengers. Jet aircraft used for commercial transport do not operate on a fuel containing lead.
This proposed endangerment finding will undergo public notice and comment, and after evaluating comments on the proposal, EPA plans to issue any final endangerment finding in 2023. EPA is not proposing aircraft engine lead emission standards with this action. EPA’s consideration of endangerment is a first step toward application of EPA’s authority to address lead pollution. If the proposed finding is finalized, EPA would subsequently propose regulatory standards for lead emissions from aircraft engines.
Lead exposure can come from multiple sources, including leaded paint, contaminated soil, industrial emissions from battery recycling or metals processing, and the combustion of fuel or waste containing lead. Children’s exposure to lead can cause irreversible and life-long health effects. No safe blood lead level in children has been identified. Even low levels of lead in blood have been shown to affect IQ, ability to pay attention, and academic achievement. In adults, health impacts from lead exposure can include cardiovascular effects, increased blood pressure and incidence of hypertension, decreased kidney function, and reproductive issues.
The Biden-Harris Administration has taken major steps toward the safe replacement of leaded aviation gas. Earlier this year, the FAA and aviation and energy industries announced the Eliminate Aviation Gasoline Lead Emissions (EAGLE) initiative, an effort to transition piston-engine aircraft to unleaded fuel. Already, the FAA has approved the safe use of an unleaded fuel that can be used in a large number of piston-engine aircraft, along with other unleaded fuels for specific aircraft.
Learn more about EPA’s proposed endangerment finding here.