EPA declares lead emissions from small aircraft a public health threat

EPA declares lead emissions from small aircraft a public health threat

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced on October 18, 2023 its final determination that emissions of lead from aircraft that operate on leaded fuel cause or contribute to air pollution which may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health and welfare under the Clean Air Act. This conclusion followed a thorough scientific assessment conducted by the agency.

The study by EPA commenced in response to a petition from various environmental and public health groups, urging the federal agency to evaluate the environmental and health impacts of lead emissions from aircraft. The assessment focused on small aircraft operating on leaded fuel, which, according to EPA’s findings, contribute a significant amount of the nation’s overall lead emissions.

While larger commercial aircraft primarily operate on unleaded aviation fuel, many smaller planes, specifically those with piston-engine aircraft, still rely on leaded fuel. This category of planes constitutes a considerable percentage of the general aviation fleet in the United States.

“The science is clear: exposure to lead can cause irreversible and life-long health effects in children,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan. “Aircraft that use leaded fuel are the dominant source of lead emissions in our air. With today’s action, the Biden-Harris Administration can move forward in the process to propose new standards to protect all communities from the serious threat of lead pollution from aircraft.”

Regan emphasised the agency’s commitment to working with international partners, the Federal Aviation Administration, environmental stakeholders, and industry representatives to mitigate the impact of lead emissions. He expressed the need to transition to safer alternatives to protect communities and ecosystems.

The EPA’s findings have now opened a path for regulatory actions to address the impact of lead emissions from aircraft engines. In the upcoming months, the agency plans to explore various measures to reduce lead exposure and emissions. These steps could range from technological modifications to changes in operational practices.

The decision by the EPA aligns with global efforts to combat air pollution and safeguard public health. While leaded gasoline for automotive vehicles has been phased out in the United States, addressing lead emissions from smaller aircraft represents another significant step in ongoing environmental protection initiatives.