AvGas Map: Californians Affected by Lead from Aviation Fuel

If you live near an airport, either a small regional airport or a large airport that is also used by small planes, you know that air quality problems are a daily reality. Lead pollution from small airplanes that continue to use lead-based fuel is a major problem, since lead can adversely affect the nervous system, kidney function, immune system, reproductive and developmental systems and the cardiovascular system.

CEH took legal action in California to address the pollution problem from lead-based aviation fuel, and in 2014 we reached a ground-breaking legal agreement to help alleviate lead pollution around 23 California airports and prompt the aviation industry to adopt lead-free fuel more quickly, sparing the air around airports nationwide. 

In January 2022, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced it will take the necessary steps to regulate lead pollution from aircrafts, the largest source of lead emissions in the country. EPA said it will propose an endangerment finding on leaded aviation gasoline by the end of 2022 and finalize the endangerment finding in 2023. The endangerment finding is a necessary first step before EPA, and the Federal Aviation Administration, can regulate lead in aviation gasoline. EPA’s actions stem from a petition that community groups represented by Earthjustice filed in 2021, including CEH.

Do you live near one of the airports on the map below? 

Click on the airport icon to see a map of the neighborhood around the California airports that CEH has previously taken legal action against for their significant lead emissions. (Airport list is below the map)

Please note that this list of airports is not a full list of all the general aviation airports using leaded avgas and is therefore not exhaustive or representative of the extent of the issue. If you would like to communicate with CEH about your concerns regarding any airport, email Karina Gomez at karina@ceh.org for more information. 

Leaded Gas: Out of Cars but Still in Planes

If you were driving a car before 1995, you may remember that cars sometimes used “regular” (leaded gasoline). Leaded gasoline was the only gasoline available between the 1920s and the early 1970s. Between 1974 and 1995, the use of leaded gas for cars was gradually phased out. The US Environmental Protection Agency called this “one of the great environmental achievements of all time,” noting that “thousands of tons of lead have been removed from the air, and blood levels of lead in our children are down 70 percent. This means that millions of children will be spared the painful consequences of lead poisoning, such as permanent nerve damage, anemia or mental retardation.”

While cars were required to use unleaded fuel after 1995, today small propeller planes (often called general aviation planes) and some helicopters are still allowed to use leaded aviation gas (avgas). Currently, leaded avgas is the largest source of lead air pollution in the US, responsible for over 500 tons of lead emissions per year. Moreover, leaded avgas is used at approximately 20,000 airports, large and small, around the U.S. Research has found that children living near general aviation airports have higher blood lead levels than children living farther away, and studies have linked high childhood blood lead levels to a host of serious health problems. Most recently, a study commissioned by Santa Clara County found children living downwind and near Reid Hillview Airport in East San Jose, CA, had elevated blood lead levels associated with the use of leaded avgas at the airport. 

Protecting Yourself and Your Family from Lead Exposure

Lead emissions from aviation traffic can accumulate in the soil and dust around your home. A few measures you can take to protect your family from lead exposure are to reduce children’s contact with bare soil in the yard or garden, and dust within the home. Frequent hand washing and wiping down surfaces with a damp cloth can help reduce lead exposure. If you believe your child is at risk for lead exposure, please talk to your health care provider about blood lead testing. More resources on reducing children’s exposure to lead are available at the following links.