Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D- Santa Monica) sent a letter to Michael Huerta, acting administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Oct. 23 to encourage expanded use of unleaded fuels to reduce toxic lead emissions from general aviation aircraft, particularly in airports in close proximity to residential areas.
The congressman, who is seeking reelection in a new coastal district that includes the Santa Monica Airport, notes the type of gasoline used in many aircraft is leaded and can be harmful to the environment.
“I am writing to urge the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to accelerate efforts to reduce lead emissions from general aviation by taking immediate steps to expand the use of currently available unleaded fuels, which can be used safely and cost-effectively by the vast majority of general aviation aircraft with piston engines,” the congressman wrote.
Lead is a potent neurotoxin that can have especially debilitating effects on children, damaging the brain and nervous system and impairing development. According to the Centers for Disease Control, there is no identified level of lead exposure without harmful effects and the effects appear to be irreversible.
“For too long general aviation gasoline, also known as ‘AvGas,’ has been exempt from the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) rules that eliminated lead from automotive fuel to protect public health and the environment,” Waxman wrote.
“General aviation fuel now accounts for half of the lead emissions in the United States. It is a major concern for residents living near the Santa Monica Airport.”
Lead emissions from general aviation are a particular concern at airports located in close proximity to residential areas. “At Santa Monica Airport, a city-owned general aviation facility located in the congressional district I represent, the runway sits just 250 feet from neighboring homes,” the congressman wrote.
Waxman cited a 2010 general aviation airport air monitoring study by the South Coast Air Quality Management District that recorded significantly elevated lead concentrations on the east end of the Santa Monica Airport tarmac, where planes taxi and idle before take-off.
Although the FAA has committed to a replacement for leaded fuel by 2018, it may take 11 years or more to fully phase in a new fuel.
“The FAA says it has a plan for a new fuel to be available in a decade or so, but there are unleaded alternatives available now for the vast majority of small aircraft,” the congressman said. “The FAA needs to do more to promote their use. We need to get the lead out today.”