Environmental Groups Renew Fight To Ban 100LL

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Spurred by a new study of lead levels in children living near a California airport, a coalition of environmental groups has renewed the effort to get the Environmental Protection Agency to issue an “endangerment finding” on the use of leaded gasoline in light aircraft. That initial step is crucial in getting a ban on leaded aviation fuel. Friends of the Earth, which launched a similar petition in the past, is joined by Alaska Community Action on Toxics, Center for Environmental Health, Montgomery-Gibbs Environmental Coalition Oregon Aviation Watch and Santa Clara County in the action.

In the petition, the groups note the EPA has already acknowledged that lead emissions endanger public health and that there is no safe level of lead in humans but is silent on its use in about 167,000 small aircraft. “To date, EPA has failed to regulate this significant source of lead exposures, even though emissions from these aircraft collectively represent the single largest source of air emissions of lead in the United States, accounting for 70 percent of lead released domestically into the environment.” In the Santa Clara study, which was used to support a city council drive to close the local airport, children living near the airport had slightly elevated lead levels in their blood, although the levels were within the variables for kids in the rest of the state. Santa Clara has now banned the sale of 100LL at Reid Hillview Airport but that’s an interim measure. The long-term goal is to close the airport and use the land for affordable housing.

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69 COMMENTS

    • I suppose you’re also against “those liberals” that are working to get rid of TEL from aviation fuel? I for one would love to get rid of the lead in avgas. Not so much for the health and environmental reasons, but because lead fouling of spark plugs is an annoyance that reduces reliability and increases cost.

    • Citing science, since they DO NOT link lead to airborne sources nor do they cite where that population immigrated from, nor do they cite what occupations they have; removing GA traffic will do exactly squat.

      Will be they apologize when the numbers don’t improve or pay back pilots who have bought more expensive fuel? No, they never are held accountable.

    • What? Seems obvious that the precipitated lead out the exhaust from planes would land on the soils surrounding the airport. There’s a reason every country in the world has banned it from auto-fuel.
      I’m not in favor of shutting airports, but I’m sympathetic to wanting to reduce lead in the environment. There’s tons of data that shows it’s terrible even in low amounts, especially for kids. We need to get an practical unleaded alternative out there quickly.

      • It’s very well established that higher levels of lead in the blood of children result in lower IQs and behavioral issues. That is most definitely not pseudo-science. There’s a ton of data behind this. There’s a reason why leaded auto fuel has been banned in every single country in the world.
        The question here is what is the relative risk of lead from piston planes, and what can be done about it. I’m certainly not in favor of shutting airports, but the harms of lead aren’t made up.

  1. Close the airport, and make “affordable housing”. Sound familiar. Politicians know all the key phrases. Yet somehow, politicians live in very nice housing themselves, and big developers make big profit building big “expensive” housing and upscale restaurants, and swanky shopping. sounds affordable to me. Bye Bye airport.

    • Like the ‘Projects’ in NYC and Detroit years ago?

      Very troubled communities.

      The proper solution is to get collective force out of the way of building and earning, while protecting individuals against initiation of force. (Crime harms poor people most as they have the least financial resiliency.)

      A problem with building housing for a particular demographic is exploitation by pushers of intoxicants and sexual assaulters. That is seen in Victoria BC in apartment blocks government has housed homeless people in. Complete with neo-Marxist activists working against control of visitors in night hours.

      • I’d just be happy with letting people build what they want. You want to build a single-family home, great. You want to build a 20-story high-rise with 160 units, fantastic! The problem isn’t “affordable housing” per se: these aren’t “housing projects”. The problem is that current state regulations mean its easier and more profitable for developers to build large homes for richer people than smaller more affordable homes. Housing rules in California mean there’s no real free-market for housing.

  2. The building of “affordable housing” should stop any wise person from supporting the closing of the airport even if they were selling opiates in the hangars. Did no one take economics?
    Every government attempt at making anything “affordable” inevitably makes it more expensive. Affordable Healthcare, Affordable Education, and Affordable Housing are practically oxymorons after decades of government programs. All of the interference has undeniably hurt affordability. In fact, with housing, should there be a sudden end of all government interference in housing, home values would plummet causing a financial crisis!
    As for lead, all of us alive in the sixties and seventies had many, many more times the lead exposure than provided by that airport. What is it we are all afflicted with?

      • In other words, you have no constructive answer.

        The children of Avweb readers are suffering, Chris! It’s your posts. Please stop. And if you have to ask what the connection to you is, you will have provided your own answer.

    • I totally agree that government should stop regulating the housing market in California.
      You should be able to build dense housing in areas where now only single-family homes are built. There should be no height limits on residential buildings! There should be no mandatory minimum number of parking spaces. The housing free market has been hamstrung with ridiculous government regulations for decades and it’s given us California’s biggest problem.

  3. Close the airport for “affordable housing”?
    What a poor excuse for closing the airport. Who do they think they’re trying to fool? This is California…..there’s no affordable housing. And with all the regulation in this state a developer willing to lose money on such a project does not exist.

  4. Government’s record is dismal.

    Just look at the recent record of most fiefdoms in shielding truly vulnerable people against the SARS2 virus.

    Most fiefdoms failed miserably, despite obsessive shotgun policies. But a few, like Florida, learned from elsewhere about the vulnerability of persons in care residences. Some chains of care residences were smart enough to know that a virus emerging in Communist China would be in North America soon (they read history), so took action early. But some politicians actually minimized the threat, some did not want to scare people. In fact it was obviously a strong respiratory virus comparable to a bad season of the perennial killer INFLUENZA.

    Gummints were irresponsibly incompetent.

  5. An example of government inability to forecast accurately was Edmonton Industrial Airport.

    After deciding to replace it with housing of some kind, government realized its financial predictions were hopelessly wrong.

    But housing is being built there.

  6. A fundamental question is ‘What level of lead is considered dangerous?’

    Eco-activists exaggerate risk, and try to ratchet downward.

    They have no concept of benefit of industry to human life.

    Instead they consider humans to be parasites. (Publicly saying so is recorded.)

  7. LOOK at the actual report on the study. As the article mentions, “children living near the airport had slightly elevated lead levels in their blood, although the levels were within the variables for kids in the rest of the state.”

    HOW “elevated”? It ran from NONE to less than HALF OF WHAT THE EPA CONSIDERS DANGEROUS.

    If the Federal Highway Administration considers driving faster than 70 mph as “dangerous”–does that mean we should prohibit cars from going faster than 35 mph?

    What do you suppose those living in Santa Clara would say if the EPA posted large “LEAD CONTAMINATION–THIS AREA HAS HIGH LEVELS OF LEAD CONTAMINATION” on the entrances to the community? Property values would fall, and there would be a movement of property owners to get rid of the signs.

    Lord, SAVE US FROM DO-GOODERS WITH AN AGENDA!

    How about a different approach? Make Reid-Hillview a “fly-in community”–“buy a home next to the airport!” People do it all over the REST (read “normal”) part of the country–if people really are concerned and want to bail out of their housing, make it available for pilots! (sarcasm)

  8. Its an important fight but it’s already lost.

    The liberal eco-mentalists have got us. Sadly they will always win as the new voters graduating from government schools are thoroughly and successfully indoctrinated to believe everything from global warming to white self-hate to lead flying out of my O-360 and into their little underprivileged brains.

    They got us on this one. RHV was a fine little airport but it’s doomed. I’d venture this will help seal the coffins of many other urban airports in wealthy areas. Especially in areas dominated by coastal elites.

    • Education is a problem, collectivist teacher unions push their ideology, boards cannot stop bullying because collectivism does not teach respect for individuals.

      Near me a student was murdered by a known vicious bully who police and school authorities had not curbed. School principle was starting to play the transfer scam of dumping the problem into another school. Apparent motive was jealousy – the perp somehow thought the victim was trying to ‘steal’ her boyfriend.

      Many sick people around, in court in BC now is an evil person who killed a child as retribution for something said by the mother to him in a booze-peddling place.

  9. I continue to be amused by how genuine arguments go off the rails as different commenters use the issue to trot our their own agendas about all sorts of things usually involving the non empathic of behavior of others, especially others whose jobs can best be described as bureaucrats in the public sector, aka government, as if those organizations are somehow “worse” than actors in the private sector. Any one here remember Enron, or the financial industries profiteering on mortgage reselling which led to the 2008 financial debacle?

  10. It would be fun to measure lead in pilots who fly with 100LL.

    Plot a graph with engine displacement, HP, and hours of exposure vs. lead levels. Maybe also time spent at an airport (airport bums, home builders, FBO employees, construction workers mechanics etc.)

    If there is no correlation their theory is debunked as no one has a higher exposure than the person whose body is 4 feet from the exhaust hour after hour, and the one who fuels and sumps the plane, and uses 100LL as their favorite cleaning solvent.

    • BINGO !! The do gooders want us to believe that ‘slightly higher’ levels of lead in children living near the airport are directly linked to the airport and flight ops. I say … PROVE IT !! I’ve been flying for over 50 years and the only negative physical thing I’ve noticed is that my hair fell out. Damn 80/87 !! Who do I sue?

      • 80/87 was allowed to have lead, but typically it didn’t have any lead, since it wasn’t needed to bring the octane up.
        So; blame you hair loss on your genes, not your fuel.
        AND; if you airplane was good on 80/87 fuel, it will run just fine on Mogas, and your cylinders will last longer.

    • Would you be willing to donate a blood sample for testing? I would be, but judging by the responses here it might be hard to get enough data for testing.

      In any case, high blood lead levels are most concerning for children, not adults.

  11. This is a fight that GA can’t win. The facts don’t matter, we simply don’t have a large enough political constituency as compared to environmental groups.

    100LL is going away so the only thing GA advocacy groups can do is push for a manageable transition period. However to do that we have to acknowledge the status quo is not sustainable. Ignoring this issue invites the worst case scenario; a ruling of a ban on 100LL with immediate effect

    • I agree. Sometimes, even though it would hurt a lot of persons involved, I almost wish an immediate ban would lead would take place. Then maybe those advocating banning 100LL will see a real airline pilot shortage because training companies can’t train new pilots, none of the essential work operations conducted by piston engine aircraft ( news and traffic helicopters, some medivac planes, some of your overnight freight ops to remote areas, a large portion of aviation in Alaska, most of Cape Air ops)would happen, I could go on and on. I’ll bet that bastion of “liberal” thinking in Cape Cod, Nantucket, Martha’s Vinyard, and other island vacation spots around Massachusetts area the local people like to go to would be unhappy if Cape Air were to shut down due to no fuel available.

    • Bring it. Ban it. Let’s have the lawsuits. I await a large check for my engine replacement or retirement of my aircraft. If the public wants to get rid of us, let them pay.

      Btw, I will be down at the city council and state legislature demanding the end to all sorts of things. It’s going to be my new hobby. They will rue the day! 😃

      • If the federal government cracks down on lead emissions there may be no recourse. Good luck getting a check.

        Personally I am all for getting rid of lead in AvGas. I mean no one wants it! Do you? Does anyone long for the days of leaded auto fuel? We just need a viable alternative.

  12. Get your heads out of the sand folks; leaded Avgas has been on borrowed time for years; it will go away!
    The last country in the world to use leaded car gas phased it out last month;the market of tetraethyl lead is drying up.
    The one company that makes it, uses a very old ship to transport it; that ship will go out of service at some point, maybe abruptly, and the source will be gone.
    Learn some biology; Lead is bad for people; learn some mechanics; Lead is bad for engines, particularly bad for valves.
    Aircraft engines don’t need lead, they need octane; lead is just an octane additive; just one way of achieving octane ratings.
    The amount of foot dragging and misinformation on this topic is staggering!
    The “Affordable Housing” thing has nothing to do with the fact that Leaded Fuel is on borrowed time and has been for years; we need solutions, not nonsensical uninformed comments.

  13. The get-the-lead-out campaign was started to prevent children from getting lead poisoning when they chewed woodwork. Sounds like a good idea. However, lead in paint had a lot of useful properties. It gave the paint durability and it lasted longer than today’s water-based paints. Woodwork (door jabs, windowsills, baseboard) is painted with trim paint. Instead of just saying trim paint had to be lead-free, the EPA made it that all paint had to be lead-free. I don’t think too many kids chew on walls. It took a good ten years before the paint manufacturers to figure out a way to make water-based paint come close to the “old” lead-based paint. Then the crusade to eliminate lead from everything started. Removed lead from gasoline. Again, the lead additive helped even burning rather than the detonation of the fuel in the cylinder. Lead in solder. Solder has a large percentage of lead, but it has to do its job of melting at a low temperature and then holding solid when cooled. There are trillions of soldered connections in today’s electronics. Lead-free solder doesn’t work as well. Aviation electronics got a waiver due to the critical nature of the avionic computers, but no more. We as taxpayers pay government employees to come up with regulations that do not have a favorable benefit to cost ratio. The government never says good enough, we don’t need any more regulations in that area. Thousands of EPA jobs depend on new regulations, so on it goes.

    • That’s kind of wrong. The risks of using lead in gasoline were known for a long time but underplayed. The guy who invented it even suffered lead poisoning. In 1922 the agency tasked with testing it said said we should not allow this stuff to be used in cars.
      You can often avoid eating lead paint. You can’t generally avoid breathing lead-laden exhaust fumes. This is a problem if you live next to a busy road and have young children.
      There’s decent evidence that the drastic rise in murders the world (not just the U.S.) in the 1980 and 90s and then the inexplicable drop-off may have had something to do with lead-induced behavioral issues by kids who grew up in the heyday of leaded gasoline 20 years before.
      Leaded auto fuel hasn’t just been banned by crazy American liberals, it’s now been banned by every country in the world.

    • “Lead-free solder doesn’t work as well.”
      Nonsense. Lead-based solder is banned from plumbing to keep you from drinking the lead. Has been for decades. I’ve done more than my share of plumbing, and I can assure you that the lead-free solder works *better* than the old lead-based solder. Electronics are still all done with lead-based solder. Not a problem because the lead is not exposed.
      Getting the lead out of auto gas was a huge step forward because of the volume going into the air, the soil, the water, and everything else. Cars seems to be running just great on lead-free gas.
      Oh, and with paint, water-based vs lead-based is a complete non-sequitur. Lead was in the white pigment. Been replaced with titanium dioxide and it works just fine, your choice of oil-based or water-based.

      • Andy Goldstein said>>> Electronics are still all done with lead-based solder. Not a problem because the lead is not exposed.

        Not true about lead based solder still being used in electronics.

        I work as an avionics RF design engineer and have been doing this on and off for the past 32 years and during the late 1990’s to the early 2000’s I was involved in Re-designing RF devices to transition from using lead packages to non lead packages in electronics and since the early 2000’s we have not used lead solder at all in any electronics.

        Lead solder in electronics was phased out years ago under what was called ROHS, reduction of hazardous substance and there is no big issue with using ROHS based solder in todays electronics either.

        I worked for several years at Motorola’s RF division in the late 1990’s specifically tasked with redesigning all of the RF products packages to adhere to the upcoming ROHS deadlines.

  14. Affordable housing is a complete red herring.
    1) There’s no shortage of building sites for affordable housing. The only shortage is of developers interested in building it.
    2) Nothing can be built at Reid-Hillview for at least 20 years. The county is legally obligated to operate the airport until 2031; then, if they try to close it, there will be years of litigation, outcome uncertain.
    3) The Supervisors’ resolution of December 2018 that throws Reid-Hillview under the bus contains no mention of housing, affordable or otherwise. It’s simply a blank check made out to the Valley’s real-estate developers.

    • And if the politicians aren’t directly in “bed” with developers and getting graft payments ‘under the table’ or via “investments,” they have the incentive to allow such development because they then don’t have to manage any cash flows. NEXT year’s public incomes will be more than this so they don’t have to manage anything and — to a casual external observer — it appears that they’re managing everything correctly. I call this ‘management by inertia.’ And — oh by the way — they’re performing positive social engineering functions, too. Saving everyone from those pesky small aeroplanes who are spewing lead all over everyone and occasionally falling on citizen’s heads.

  15. 100LL should have been banned 20 years ago. It’s bad for our engines and it’s horrible for the environment. I know most here on AvWeb don’t really care about clean air or the environment that our children and grandchildren will inherit (your insults of “Tree Huggers” say all we need to know about your own character), but I would expect that you would at least care about the health and longevity of your engines, so everyone should be cheering this on.

    The only reason we do not yet have a fully approved drop-in replacement for 100LL is that there has not really been any sense of urgency to replace it. History shows that necessity is the mother if invention and when we really need to get something done, humans are capable of working miracles. Had the EPA outlawed 100LL 20 years, or had the one and only manufacturer of TEL decided to stop producing it, the entire industry would have gone all-in on a UL replacement and we would not be having these arguments right now.

    The greater the pressure to eliminate 100LL, the sooner we can get 100UL into our airplanes. And as production of 100UL scales up and more manufacturers get their formulas approved, economy of scale will bring the price of 100UL back to where 100LL would be. And since unleaded fuel does not require the special handling and transport that leaded fuel requires, more savings can be realized.

    Most of the comments here waste digital space attacking environmentalism and fatalistically predicting the end of GA in the U.S., but smart people will see this as a positive step towards getting rid of a fuel that dirty for our engines and a health hazard for the entire world.

  16. I agree lead is bad for our engines and if there was an alternative for the same price, (or less in the case of Mogas) available at most airfields I would use it. I would even use it if it was worse for the environment. The environment concerns me not at all in this context.

    I’d spring for the Mogas STC (quite expensive for my plane as airframe modifications are required) in a heartbeat if 100LL was not available but Mogas was.

    Again, I don’t give a rat’s arse about the trivial lead emissions. I want it OUT of my plane. If it winds up in the atmosphere in insignificant amounts I don’t care.

  17. “The long-term goal is to close the airport and use the land for affordable housing.”

    Of course I agree with everyone who wrote about this, but the answer to the issue that has all meaning to what they want is at the end of the article. Sadly its no longer about who was there first!

    Its all about, “my way or the highway.”

  18. If there was REALLY a concern on the part of the RESIDENTS–wouldn’t you think there would be a huge number of homes for sale around the airport? Has anyone studied the number of homes available for sale?

    Obviously, these people that are DIRECTLY INVOLVED are showing little or no concern–only the NOT INVOLVED “do-gooders.”

    I’ll offer ANOTHER possible solution–if the airport land and cost of closing the airport is $300 million (for example)–have the local tax base pony up money to make up the difference between 100LL and the “safe” fuel. For argument’s sake, let’s use 50 cents a gallon. that would be 6 million gallons of fuel–or enough to run the average GA fleet using the airport for 6 million hours at an average of 10 gph. Change the variables at your will (maybe a 25 cent incentive to use unleaded MOGAS)–it would take a LONG TIME to burn up that much fuel–maybe even long enough to fully develop those “electric airplanes” and “battery improvements” scheduled “just around the corner.”

    Pilots would be happy–homeowners would be happy–everyone but those who insist that OTHERS change–not themselves (they are NEVER happy!) Their mantra seems to be “make the OTHER GUY change (or pay).

  19. As the man in the press conference announcing UL94 at Reid Hillview Airport, let me clarify a couple points from the article and comments..
    1. The county hasn’t actually banned 100LL yet, and 2 of 4 FBO’s selling it. More than 100 aircraft have their Swift UL94 STC’s and 2 FBO’s are pumping UL94 into most of the training planes active at the airport.
    2. The $250K Lead Study commissioned by the county was a series of correlations of assumptions without link to causation, but was well orchestrated with overtones of Flint Michigan to create a “crisis” publicity campaign by a county supervisor who has fought for 25 years to close the airport and redevelop the property. As noted below, facts don’t matter in politics, perceptions do.
    3. As a convert to UL94, I am delighted to be done with fouled plugs and potential sticky valve stems, as UL94 burns cleaner, extends oil change intervals (per Lycoming) and reduces maintenance. And yeah, it is a little more expensive coming to Calif by truck, but will hopefully get cheaper as more west coast airports offer UL94 and transportation costs decline.
    4. That said, UL94 from Swift is a “Bridge product” until Unleaded 100 Octane is approved as a universal drop-in replacement for 100LL. Whether that comes from GAMI, Swift or someone else is unclear today, but pressure on EPA and FAA to approve somebody’s formula and eliminate lead in Avgas is building rapidly. MOGAS may be fine for some, but here it is unusable due to ethanol mandates, and quality, storage periods and other issues render it problematic for many aircraft and airports.
    5. While the county hasn’t banned 100LL, none of the FBO’s have leases extending beyond this December, so the county could require sale of unleaded fuel as a condition of extending the leases until the scheduled airport closure in 2031, or sooner if the FAA fails to push back on the county’s request to close ahead of the expiration of AIP Grant Obligations.

    • Thank you for the update—very informative.

      I would take issue with “ MOGAS may be fine for some, but here it is unusable due to ethanol mandates, and quality, storage periods and other issues render it problematic for many aircraft and airports.”

      At my FBO, we have dispensed over 420,000 gallons of aviation Mogadishu in the past 16 years—without an issue. We buy it straight from a local refiner (which also produces 100LL). Each batch come with a “birth certificate” listing actual octane, Reid vapor pressure, chemical composition, and a statement that there is NO ALCOHOL in the fuel. The fuel is transported in trucks dedicated to the fuel—no mixed fuel. It is dispensed from an underground tank system with floating suction—just like 100 octane. These measures insure quality product is assured—as well as our own protection.

      We have never had an auto gas fuel maintenance issue—nor has a local pipeline patrol company employing 14 Cessna aircraft. Our aircraft go well beyond TBO—and the pipeline aircraft go even further—(4000 to 5000 hours are not unheard of). We sell the fuel at $3.55 a gallon—46 cents more than the local gas station for the special care and production—and we make the same margin as selling 100 LL—we don’t care which product we sell.

      The only “problem” is the odor of Mogas—the refinery is mandated to add the distinctive smell—it SHOULD be simple enough to pass a State law repealing the requirement.

      THIS NEED NOT BE AN ISSUE! Put mogas into Reid—Hillview—taking away the anti-airport group argument. Let the 30 percent of piston airplanes that CAN NOT burn it use the leaded 100 octane—and you have taken away the environmental argument entirely.

  20. I’ll start off by saying I do support a transition away from 100LL for GA, as long as it doesn’t accelerate the death of GA. I really wish people would stop moving in near airports and complaining about them, and I highly doubt there is any causational link between any measurable increase in lead exposure for those living near such a small airport. The closest houses are some 400′ from the taxiway feeding 31L, and the school is some 1,500′ from the same feature of 13R. The odds that there is any significant exposure to lead from the exhaust of even the largest aircraft operating from that airport at any residential or school locations around the airport are low in my opinion. Fluid mixing being what it is, I’d say it is unlikely you’d be able to detect the exhaust from a small plane sitting idle on a taxiway let alone taking off or landing even under ideal conditions, and it’s unlikely any aircraft will ever be stopped in that closest possible spot for any more than a minute. Engine exhaust is inherently well diluted in piston aircraft because of relatively low volume and prop blast, and even if you’re in the back yard of the house 400′ from the taxiway, the dilution further occurring to the exhaust stream as the wind blows it toward you is going to be quite drastic. I would need to see a study that involves sensors placed at the closest or most probably exposed houses over a long period of time to believe there is any significant lead exposure to those living around this airport, or most GA airports. This is not an oval track with stands surrounding, creating a stagnant zone in which dozens of cars running at full power are belching leaded exhaust, that creates a measurably high concentration of lead. This is at most one aircraft per minute taxiing by or taking off, in open air, with prop blast and turbulent ground level winds providing forced dilution.

  21. Two comments:

    Glad we didn’t have to fight WWII on unleaded fuel.

    An oil company engineer at an SAE conference I once attended said that he could provide any octane wanted, leaded or unleaded, but how much we willing to pay?