Good-News Study On Airport Lead Exposure Kept Under Wraps

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A series of studies commissioned by the town of Superior, Colorado, found virtually no evidence of airborne and surface lead contamination in three towns nearby Jefferson County’s Rocky Mountain Metro Airport (KBJC – also known as Jeffco Airport). But it took a Freedom of Information request to bring the test results to light. In all but one case, the levels found at the sites were too low to register. Air and surface swab samples were taken from indoor and outdoor locations in Superior, Louisville, and Lafayette, Colorado, between May and November last year.

Last December, more than 400 homeowners in Superior filed a lawsuit against Jefferson County over increased airport operations, claiming diminished property values and citing lead pollution as one of the charges.

Despite the fact that Superior commissioned and paid for the studies, none of the three towns released the results. Superior resident Brad Walker filed a freedom of information request to get the reports and passed them along to AVweb. Also, the Colorado Aviation Business Association (CABA) and the Colorado Pilots Association (CPA) jointly issued a press release last week citing the results of the tests. The groups wrote, “Colorado’s aviation community is pleased with the finding of studies commissioned by our neighbors that confirmed that our communities are not being contaminated with lead. While we are puzzled as to why these three municipalities have not publicized these results, the findings themselves are unsurprising and confirm what several others around the country have found.”

According to Florida-based Pinyon Environmental Inc., which conducted the testing, only one of 15 sites tested in the three towns, the interior of an older home with a history of lead paint exposure, yielded a measurable amount of lead contamination. Even that reading of 0.077 micrograms per cubic meter of air did not meet the Environmental Protection Agency’s National Ambient Air Quality Standards’ danger threshold of 0.15 micrograms. None of the other sites registered measurable amounts of lead in the atmosphere or from swabs taken from surfaces.

The locations of the test sites were selected by the town to represent the highest probability of detecting lead contamination from the airport. Chris Swathwood, Chair of Legislative Affairs for the Colorado Aviation Business Association, told AVweb he agreed the sites were ideally located: under regular outbound traffic to the north of KBJC as well as inbound traffic on the RNAV approach to Runway 12. He expressed frustration that the municipalities have not released the results of their studies and that misinformation about the danger of 100LL aviation fuel persists unnecessarily.

Nevertheless, the CPA/CABA release showed support for efforts to eliminate lead from aviation fuel: “We, along with the entire aviation industry, are eagerly working with manufacturers on a safe, commercially viable unleaded alternative by the end of 2030 or sooner.”

Mark Phelps
Mark Phelps is a senior editor at AVweb. He is an instrument rated private pilot and former owner of a Grumman American AA1B and a V-tail Bonanza.

43 COMMENTS

  1. Wait, the authorities would keep pertinent facts from the public that undermine their agenda? What a surprise!

    • When a 0.04% atmospheric trace gas is still being called an imminent threat to humanity, you already know that good news is the enemy of those making profit from “exaggerating” threats.

      • It takes far, far less than 0.04% of arsenic to kill you, so just because something is a “trace” amount doesn’t make it harmless.

        • Hey Kirk, it is a good thing our aircraft don’t deposit arsenic over the land. Among many other known toxins and poisons, by the way.

        • Mr. Foyt is referring to atmospheric CO2 changes. .04% swing over and above present precentage is hard to make a case that the world is ending. CO2 is the building block for plants to synthesize oxygen. Substituting arsenic for CO2 doesn’t help to elevate your contribution.

        • Wow! Comparing co2 to arsenic? Why not compare it to plutonium? Such extreme nonsense is why we cannot have a realistic conversation on the subject.

  2. It’s a big mistake to do real science on pre-declared problem.
    Truth is the last thing that that zealots want.

    • Supposedly the largest contributors of lead into the atmosphere are smelters, mining operations, waste incinerators, and wait for it… battery recycling! And you’ll be lambasted if you even mention these facts about battery recycling. Remember, going electric is going to “save the planet”.

      • Try to pay attention; EV’s and electric airplanes don’t have any lead in their batteries; Lead Acid batteries are so last century!

        • EV’s and electric aircraft may not have lead in their batteries but they do have other materials that are toxic and hazardous during mining/recycling. Because they don’t have lead doesn’t take away from the fact that battery recycling in general is one of the largest contributors of lead into the atmosphere.

          And lead-acid batteries aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. So perhaps if you paid attention you would realize that EV’s and electric aircraft are not sweeping the market in some big way. Much to the chagrin of the masterminds behind the anti-capitalist movement hiding behind the “save the planet” mantra. The market doesn’t want them. Just ask Ford why they have huge parking lots full of unsold electric pickups. Just ask GM why they are dialing back their push for producing electric cars.

          • Sodium-Ion batteries could be a very good replacement for lead acid batteries in the not too distant future. The automotive industry is willing to pay about $5 per pound of weight savings. They haven’t went with lithium based starter batteries as potential high underhood temperatures can degrade them, and very cold winter temperatures greatly reduce their performance. Sodium-Ion batteries are more robust against both of these conditions.
            While being a little bit heavier than lithium based batteries, Sodium-Ion is still much lighter than lead acid and has the potential for an easy 3X the lifetime of lead acid too.

        • Actually, in addition to the Li-ion drive battery, EV’s also have a 12 lead-acid battery to run all the 12 volt accessories…radio, a/c fan, exterior lights, etc.

          Hybrids also have a 12 lead-acid battery in addition to the Li-ion drive battery.!!

    • Jack, technically “meet” is more accurate. A level of 0.15 “meets” their criteria and needs to be accountable. A level of 0.149999999999…. does not.

      • 0.149999999999 is not a real amount.
        We do not have instruments that can measure to over 12 significant digits.
        That’s why they said that they could find no measurable amounts of lead. 😉

        • Actually, if one were to read thoroughly, the highest reading they recorded was 0.077mg/M² inside a home with lead paint exposure. Without actually saying it the ‘environment’ did not even come within 55% of the 0.015 standard. I would be interested to know what the contamination level discovered at the other 14 sites was.

        • So – if you can’t measure it, it doesn’t exist? Fact is, 0.14999… (with repeating 9s) IS measurable to some extent – but will ALWAYS be less than 0.150.

  3. Same with the Santa Clara County KHRV lead study. Most of the lead came from soil samples around old houses with a legacy of lead paint. Also for decades San Jose Speedway next to the airport using Lead fuel for decades.

    A lot flawed with the study, but the hysteria carried the day. Oh, let’s not forget the study to kill the airport was conducted by a guy named Murder. Can’t make this stuff up.

    • Santa Clara County hired an investigation team that specialized “correlations” (read their website).
      That’s why their report (that I read) never did actual airborne testing.
      Junk science perfected.

      • When the County prohibited leaded fuel at RHV, they may have unwittingly undermined one of their pretexts for closing the airport. (Not that it will stop them, though.)

      • “Every person who confuses correlation with causation will die.”
        Not my quote. I wish I could remember where I saw it.

  4. Hey Kirk, it is a good thing our aircraft don’t deposit arsenic over the land. Among other things, by the way.

  5. Eliminating all the lead from our fuel is of course a good idea. An even better idea would be eliminating a lot, but not all, of government from our lives.

    The FAA and government in general needs to stop getting in the way by choosing and mandating the “best” solutions which they will always fail at. Always. The FAA needs to congratulate GAMI while encouraging other suppliers to create solutions for lead free fuel and promote a healthy, competitive market for aviation fuels, engines, airframes, etc.

  6. The battery industry in central Missouri closed because natural background lead levels were higher than EPA limits. Lead contamination concerns due to GA are a red herring. The real reasons for opposition to GA is that for anyone not involved it is seen as an elitist activity and toys of the wealthy. Noise can be an issue, but military and commercial aircraft noise is a bigger issue. In that sense it is like people who buy a house in a development next to a chicken or hog farm and then complain that it stinks. However in most cases, efforts by government officials to close airports are driven by a single fact, they take a lot of land and that land is worth a lot of money.

  7. So, homeowners (not the EPA or other “zealots”) sued Jefferson County “over increased airport operations, claiming diminished property values and citing lead pollution as one of the charges.”

    So, “a series of studies commissioned by the town of Superior, Colorado, found virtually no evidence of airborne and surface lead contamination in three towns nearby Jefferson County’s Rocky Mountain Metro Airport.” And then, the towns involved didn’t release the results?

    The facts, as presented in this article, are not making much sense. Aside from all the usual commenter noise about junk science, CO2, and other unrelated nonsense, the party being sued commissioned a study that showed at least one of the allegations in the suit to be baseless (and therefore, supportive of their defense in the lawsuit). How is that result then not released? Was it used as evidence to defend against the lawsuit? If not, then why was it done?

      • Mark, thanks. So, why then was “A series of studies commissioned by the town of Superior, Colorado”? Given that the towns are not being sued, why did the one of the towns commission a series of studies about lead? Was that just coincidental?

        • One theory is that the town expected the studies to show lead contamination. When they didn’t, the town chose not to publicly release the results.

  8. The people suing live in Superior. They have been aggressively seeking out local politicians for help. I doubt any of this was coincidental.

    • And, unfortunately the local politicians named in this article, all very much leftist progressives, have little scientific expertise to evaluate the collected data in order to justify backing the bill they are sponsoring. Albeit some of that data has been intentionally concealed.

  9. Throw the bums out. Taxpayers should sue those responsible for wasting money on a study whose results could have been easily predicted by a 12 year old. The alphabets and airport owners could have solved this problem years ago by actively supporting the sale of lead-free, ethanol-free, lower-cost, FAA-approved mogas at all GA airfields. It can be used in over 70% of all legacy piston aircraft and 100% of all modern aircraft engines like Rotax, UL Power, etc. We are so stupid in this country.

  10. COLORADO LEAD STUDIES FAILED TO DETECT MEASURABLE AVIATION POLLUTION
    STATE LAWMAKERS PROPOSE EXPEDITED AVGAS ELIMINATION NONETHELESS.

    Notwithstanding the lack of detectable lead in air and surface samples taken in three Colorado communities near Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport in 2023 (findings that came to light only after pilots obtained the reports via freedom of information requests), the legislature is now considering a nakedly anti-aviation bill that AOPA will vigorously oppose.

    The legislation introduced February 12 seeks to penalize airports that do not adopt a plan to phase out avgas sales by January 1, 2026, restricting the use of “state aviation grant program” funds for such airports, and would add two members to the Colorado Aeronautical Board, expressly excluding pilots and requiring the governor to “give priority to individuals who are not trained pilots and who reside directly in the predominant flight path of a high-traffic general aviation airport or commercial airport at which there is significant general aviation activity” when appointing the new voting members, according to the bill’s summary.

  11. So, obviously a combined residential and governmental effort to close the airport under the phony guise of ” lead contamination.”

  12. Abd I might add– the airport was in existence long before develops threw up those 400 + homes whose buyers knew full well in advance that they were buying a home adjacent to the airport.
    Typical lawyer & politician phony BS.

    • And, the town was advised by the Metro Airport Authority not to grant residential zoning in areas close in to the airport known noise areas. The Town of Superior ignored that advice.

    • Amazing isn’t it, John?
      Next will be to sue the realtors and agents that showed them the houses they so eagerly bought.

  13. We pilots should not be naive as to the hidden motive behind most environmental regulation designed to curtail our sport / profession or both. Piloting our own aircraft provides tremendous freedom of movement. The master minds who dream up these environmental regulations consider free movement to be a treat to their control. Therefore….

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