Press Releases

Map Outlines Lead Pollution Around California Airports

Neighborhoods near 23 airports affected by lead-containing aviation fuel

Oakland, CA-The Center for Environmental Health (CEH) has created an online map showing the neighborhoods around 23 California airports where aviation fuel creates lead air pollution dangers. In December, the health nonprofit won a legal agreement with 30 companies that sell and/or distribute lead-containing aviation gas (avgas) at the airports, calling on the companies to provide safer alternative fuels. Until safer fuels are provided, the settlement requires the companies to warn neighbors of the lead pollution risks and provide warning signs at their airport fuel stations.

“People who live near these airports know that air pollution is a daily reality,” said Caroline Cox, Research Director of CEH. “We urge fuel companies to move quickly to lead-free fuels. Until they do, their neighbors have a right to know that their operations are a major source of their air quality problems.”

The airports listed on the CEH map include many that have been identified by the EPA as having some of the highest lead emissions among all airports nationally, including Van Nuys Airport in LA County (listed by EPA as the airport with the country’s highest lead emissions), Los Angeles International (LAX), Oakland International, Orange County’s John Wayne Airport, Montgomery Field in San Diego, and others throughout the state.

Lead is a stunningly toxic chemical linked to serious health problems for children and adults, including reduced IQ and damage to the nervous system, kidney function, the immune system, reproductive and developmental systems and the cardiovascular system. Between 1974 and 1995, the use of leaded gas for cars was gradually phased out. But 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, causing emissions of over 500 tons of lead per year. Recent research has found that children living near general aviation airports have higher blood lead levels than children living farther away.

A 2012 report from the FAA and EPA called for an 11 year process to phase-in lead-free fuels.“Eleven years is too long to wait for clean air free from lead poisoning risks,” said Cox. “We will continue to monitor the industry and keep the pressure on for safer fuels as quickly as possible.”

The Center for Environmental Health (CEH) is the leading national nonprofit committed to ending health threats from toxic chemicals in our air, water, food and in products we use every day. CEH protects children and families from harmful chemicals by working with communities, consumers, workers, and government to demand and support safer business practices. We also work with major industries and leaders in green business to promote healthier alternatives to toxic products and practices.