Despite Global Ban, Small Planes in U.S. Still Use Leaded Gas

PhillipC via Flickr/CC BY 2.0

When lead gets in your body, it does nasty things. For starters, it can cause brain and cardiovascular damage. And studies reveal that children exposed to lead even at low levels are much more likely to have lowered IQs. Needless to say, there's a good reason that environmental and health groups have been hard at work banishing the chief source of lead pollution -- leaded gasoline -- in nations around the globe.

Just last week, the U.N. declared victory of sorts in doing exactly that. Nearly every nation in the world, except for a few regimes that notoriously don't play nice with others (North Korea, Myanmar among them), has now banned the sale of leaded gasoline. In motor fuels, anyways. See, there's a gaping hole in some of these bans, including right here in the United States -- lead is still allowed in aviation fuel for small planes.

Since aviation fuel is regulated differently than motor fuel, gas for small, private airplanes have evidently fallen beneath the radar. In the United States, leaded gas has supposedly been banned for decades -- yet tiny jets continue to fill up on the stuff across the nation even today. And if this strikes you as an absurd but mostly harmless exception, think again: 50% of the nation's lead pollution is the result of leaded gas in aviation fuel.

Here's the NRDC:

Burning this fuel, avgas, as it is known, is responsible for approximately 50% of the lead air pollution in the US, and the EPA estimates that about 16 million people live near the approximately 20,000 airports where leaded avgas is used and where the pollution is the most dangerous. About 3 million children attend school near these airports.

This is clearly unacceptable. There are entirely affordable, cleaner alternatives to leaded gas, and there's no reason that small jets should be granted an exception to pollution rules the rest of industry started obeying in the 1970s. Thankfully, the EPA is set to take up the effort to oust leaded avgas, but given the amount of vitriol that agency is facing, it could be some time before we see the true end to leaded gasoline.

Tags: Airplanes


treehugger slideshows