California Avgas Suit

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The other day, as I was trying to get a couple of lead balance weights to stick to the rear wheel of my motorcycle, I should have said a silent prayer. Not to get them to stick, but in gratitude for living in Florida where we can still touch lead. I guess that's no longer true in California, judging by this week's news that the California-based Center for Environmental Health is going after refiners and FBOs in that state, claiming they're polluting water with lead from avgas.

So what does this mean, exactly? It's impossible to say because we don't know where the CEH actioin will actually go. Further, there could be jurisdictional and standing issues with the FAA, which guards its aviation territory and doesn't take local challenges lying down. Or the state attorney general could preempt CEH with its own filing. CEH is an organization that appears to work, at least partially, by forcing businesses and agencies to comply with California's Proposition 65 under threat of legal action. Unfortunately, our friends in California wrote into their broad-based environmental laws what can best be described as a shakedown clause. If there's a monetary settlement after proof of damages, the complainant gets a piece of the action. Furthermore, most of the burden of proof--and the expenses--lie with the accused entities, not the plaintiff.

You can easily see how the legislature may have meant well by this, in a sort of power-to-the-people way that would give the masses some leverage against powerful interests. (Think of Erin Brokovich.) Or maybe the trial lawyers lobby wrote the bill. Either way, like everything else, it can have unintended consequences.

As this potential skirmish gets underway, CEH is aware of the EPA's pressure on the aviation fuel industry through emerging lead emissions standards. It seems unaware that the industry has teamed up with the FAA to formulate a plan to move toward unleaded fuel, with an announcement on that process expected later this year. CEH's action came out of left field and caught everyone by surprise. It seems unlikely to have any short-term effect on the FAA ARC committee's deliberations. I just don't see how that process is going to be accelerated, however much I might like it to be.

My worry is for some of the smaller businesses who could be named in these suits. Chevron, Exxon, Phillips and Shell are big boys who can take care of themselves. But for FBOs, the legal fee clock starts ticking the instant they pick up the phone for the first consultation. CEH does have to provide a certificate of merit arguing the technical points of their private enforcement to prove that avgas is a source contaminant in California waterways. But rather than defend against such claims, organizations like this know that a friendly settlement is cheaper and easier. And given that they get a piece of that pie, they have a strong incentive toward a sure settlement rather than a more doubtful verdict. It would be unfortunate if any FBOs or airports decided that rather than pay legal fees or a settlement, that this is the last straw and they'd rather fold up shop. This is just one reason why it's critical to solve the 100LL issue via industry initiative and keep it out of the courts until the replacement fuel is in place. Courts can be unpredictable.

Oh, and as for the lead weights, one of CEH's listed accomplishments is eliminating the use of lead tire weights in California. Heretofore, I thought lead in avgas was the world's smallest environmental problem. I was obviously misinformed. (A handful of other states have also banned lead weights.)

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Comments (84)

If you can get sued for supplying a Federally approved and mandated product then it's no wonder why businesses leave the USA. I would not blame Chevron, Exxon, etc from pulling out of the GA piston market completely.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | May 13, 2011 7:02 AM    Report this comment

Back in 1964 Woody Allen made the quip during a stand-up comedy routine that by the end of the century kidnapping would be the main form of social interaction in the United States. If he had said "lawsuits" instead he would have been right.

Posted by: Adam Hunt | May 13, 2011 7:08 AM    Report this comment

This illustrates the peril in ignoring a known problem. All parties concerned have wasted at least twenty years, in denial, when the end of leaded fuel was clearly coming. Hopefully the transition can continue without interupting the fuel supply, but it is more than time to forget the handwringing and provide solutions; the Europeans have had an acceptable replacement for 100LL for twenty years.

As for the American penchant for lawsuits; it is high time that personal responsibility move to the fore. Change the legislation before there are no businesses left in the country except Law Firms.

Posted by: BRIAN HOPE | May 13, 2011 7:29 AM    Report this comment

Another frivolous lawsuit without merit or cause, whose only intent is to line the pockets of a small group of enviromental terrorists.

Unfortunately our legislators are mostly lawyers, so the majority of their time is spent writing legislation that lines the pockets of themselves and their ilk.

Until we get some realistic tort reform, flying, like most other events in this country, will continue to remain very expensive.

Posted by: John Wrenn | May 13, 2011 7:45 AM    Report this comment

Reading the CEH lawsuit reminds me of reading the DHMO(Dihydrogen Monoxide)website at And yes, some paralegal in California almost got a city to ban DHMO as a threat to human health and safety.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | May 13, 2011 8:22 AM    Report this comment

Isn't the yearly deposit of lead from 100ll something like .0040 oz per acre? 40 ten thousandths? Likely less than coal fired power plants?

Posted by: MARC SALVISBERG | May 13, 2011 8:41 AM    Report this comment

Having lived in California for 30 years (1970-2000), I saw one of the most beautiful and diverse and prosperous of our States morph from the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow into a land controlled by the proverbial "fruits and nuts." Productive business' and people are fleeing in droves because of these frivolous lawsuits, excessive taxation, high cost of living and onerous legislation. It won't be long before the only people left in California will be standing there wondering where everyone went. Happiness to me was crossing the Colorado River eastbound for the last time in a moving van. This issue merely cements my feelings. Next thing ya know, these people will be suining individual pilots every time they fire up their Lycomings and Continentals! THAT'll help GA.

Posted by: Larry Stencel | May 13, 2011 9:21 AM    Report this comment

I admire Avweb for taking the time to respectfully discuss these issues with the parities involved. When I listened to the interview that Russ had with the CEH representative however, I had the sense that our great enterprise is being dismantled not by a strong and resolute opposition, but by frightened and weak-minded individuals who collectively convince us to sacrifice our good to their void. Low-Lead fuel is not a health hazard. Aviation has nothing to gain by transitioning to unleaded fuel. Airplanes perform very well on the current product and it is relatively abundant for the time being. If there becomes a true economic or performance-related reason to switch, then let us by all means, but if we are going to allow people like this to alter our industry solely for the sake of their wishes to do so, we are the ones of the greatest guilt.

Posted by: Ryan Lunde | May 13, 2011 9:42 AM    Report this comment

A shakedown by bounty hunters; my sentiments exactly when I first heard of this.

Don't get me wrong, lead is not good stuff. There isn't a pilot flying that would be unhappy with an affordable, workable, and FAA-approved lead-free fuel, were such a thing available now. Blame the FAA and aviation community in general for not focussing on that problem earlier, but at least we have accepted that a change would be a good thing.

World production of lead is still around 8 million metric tons annually. The US is #3 in production. Most of that production goes into batteries, and guess who is among the largest consumers of those. If the CEH is worried about a few wheel weights twirling off of auto tires, maybe they should think about where all the lead losses from batteries are going.

Accepting that their estimate of 550 tons of lead are used in avgas, i.e., 0.0065% of total lead production, and that only a tiny fraction of that is used in California sourced avgas, it strikes me that the reason that CEH is going after wheel-weight sellers and Avgas pumpers is that they are by and large small businesses that do not have the resources to fight back. You have to believe that the lawyers representing CEH recognize this as a factor in their cynical targeting strategy and greedy anticpation of bounty payments.

Posted by: David MacRae | May 13, 2011 10:13 AM    Report this comment

Ryan -
.004 oz per acre a year is hardly a threat. Even if you are going to lick a acre's surface once a year.
People rarely understand the objective facts.

Posted by: MARC SALVISBERG | May 13, 2011 10:14 AM    Report this comment


The sanctimonious pronouncements of the CEH on lead hazards from current use in avgas conveniently avoids the fact that lead in the environment does not just evanesce. It sticks around. So that means that the decades of leaded auto gas use on the clogged California throughways continue to contribute to 99.999% of biologically active environmental lead levels from leaded fuel. TEL toxicity along with the lead scavengers has been well documented for decades. Where was the CEH then?

Posted by: David MacRae | May 13, 2011 10:14 AM    Report this comment

Paul -
Wheel weight trick.
Weldwood or other spray adhesive from the hardware store.
Spray a bit on your finger. Rub it on the area where you are putting your tire weights.
The carrier in the adhesive cuts through any wax and grease adheres very strongly to the rim.
Let dry a minute or so.
Peel backing and stick adhesive weights on.
To get the weights off, you will have to literally tear apart the foam tape. The adhesive surface will remain attached to the rim.
Proven to work till at least 170 mph.

Posted by: MARC SALVISBERG | May 13, 2011 10:26 AM    Report this comment


Ditto on the uhmms.

Posted by: Ryan Lunde | May 13, 2011 10:29 AM    Report this comment

"After complete combustion it becomes elemental lead and is relatively inert."

It does? I thought it morphed into lead salts or lead bromide, which is toxic. Not saying that is an environmental issue, but it's also not elemental lead.

Am I misconstruing the chemistry?

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | May 13, 2011 10:59 AM    Report this comment

Marc, good tip on the wheel weights. I'll try it. Usually, I just run tape over the top of them. I try to not see 170, but 130 is possible on the track.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | May 13, 2011 11:01 AM    Report this comment

David McRae

Evanesce. I had to look that up. You are right, but I suspect surface concentrations have diminished. As a prospector we use gravity and water to separate minerals into groups by specific gravity, and heavier metals like lead, zinc, copper, gold, mercury and silver 'dive' to the bottom of the pile very quickly. You can test the theory by shaving a piece of lead bullet into a mason jar of sifted dust or mud and lightly agitate it. With time the lead shaving will appear on the bottom. I suspect the same happens to lead particulate from automobiles. While not evansecence, it does disappear from the soil surface, and unless it is digested into an organic form it is poorly taken up by plants and brought back to the surface.

I also hope the fear mongers are not targeting lead acid battery makers. The alternative is Lithium and Cadmium chemistries, which would jack up the price of an engine start battery. Lithium and Cadmium batteries occasionally spontaneously catch fire - a rare occurrence with lead acid, so I hope we don't go there.

Posted by: THOMAS M CONNOR | May 13, 2011 11:05 AM    Report this comment


As I tell the IRS, I'll have to get back to you on that. I need to do a bit of research, but my gut reaction is that it would form a carbonate or sulfide before it makes a chloride, bromide or fluoride salt. Do the halides come from the scavengers?

Posted by: THOMAS M CONNOR | May 13, 2011 11:19 AM    Report this comment

Ethyl bromide is the usual scavanger, so whatever the reaction is with that. My understanding is that it makes lead bromide and the purpose of the scavenger is to minimize elemental lead fouling and no so much for emissions.

Lead bromide is toxic, but nothing like TEL, I don't think. Let us know what you find.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | May 13, 2011 11:51 AM    Report this comment

Can you spell E-X-T-O-R-T-I-O-N?

Posted by: Al Dyer | May 13, 2011 1:53 PM    Report this comment

The AOPA should support those FBO's and throw everything in their law aresenal into stopping this. A grassroots campaign is in order.

Also, the name of Avgas needs to be changed from 100LL to something like...100SF or 100 Safety Fuel!

Posted by: Brad Vaught | May 13, 2011 3:00 PM    Report this comment

Well, at least it will reduce fatal GA accidents.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | May 13, 2011 3:01 PM    Report this comment

Just spoke with a guy last week holding off on an airplane purchase due to the high compression unleaded issue. Somebody better come up with something fast.

Posted by: Josh Johnson | May 13, 2011 4:10 PM    Report this comment

Just spoke with a guy last week holding off on an airplane purchase due to the high compression unleaded issue. Somebody better come up with something fast.

Posted by: Josh Johnson | May 13, 2011 4:10 PM    Report this comment

As for the chemistry, the bromide/chlorides of lead are relatively volatile (at 1500 deg or so) and these are the intended products of lead after it has done its job as a radical scavenger (anti-knock), rather than lead oxide. In the environment the halides will hydrolyse eventually and end up as predominently colloidal/nanoparticle sized lead oxide that scatters itself across the landscape I suspect that it then can become attached to various clays in the soil matrix and become relatively immobile unless it gets taken up in plants, or washed into streams. People who tried to use naturally occurring lead as a part of a means of determining the age of soils quickly came to realize that environmental lead from human activity made that type of measurement unreliable.

Posted by: David MacRae | May 13, 2011 4:14 PM    Report this comment

You Yanks are Nuts
From a Proud Nation you are now owned by the chinease and spend your days sueing each other
Shame on the legal scavengers of your society

Posted by: Ian Hodgkinson | May 13, 2011 6:53 PM    Report this comment


Where ya from?

Posted by: THOMAS M CONNOR | May 13, 2011 7:02 PM    Report this comment

New Zealand

Posted by: Ian Hodgkinson | May 13, 2011 8:25 PM    Report this comment

Most of you miss the point - the public long ago decided that any amount of leaded fuel is too much, just as any amount of lead in paint used on toys is too much. We lost this debate years ago. The CEH is a group that has blown the whistle on some questionable uses of lead, for instance in toys, so they have a track record in the public eye as being a positive influence, and that's all that matters really to Congress. Why all the teeth gnashing though? Ethanol-free autogas could power nearly 80% of the entire piston-engine fleet, Petersen's new ADI system will handle most other high compression engines, and all next-gen engines in the pipeline (including Lycomings) are designed to run on 91+ octane autogas. The solution is already at hand, it's time to start the transition to autogas before the CEH lawsuit spreads across the country, which it will as the public learns that lead from our planes is raining down on their homes and schools, regardless whether a risk exists or not.

Posted by: Kent Misegades | May 14, 2011 7:45 AM    Report this comment

"Most of you miss the point - the public long ago decided that any amount of leaded fuel is too much"

Kent, you miss the point. The public long ago decided that any amount of private AVIATION is too much. Noise, accidents, fear, costs, etc has been decimating California airports. They don't care WHAT fuel is in them, all the public sees is annoyance, "eco" people see private GA as unnecessary, and developers see it as a waste of prime real estate.

The public has long ago lost any love of GA piston planes.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | May 14, 2011 9:05 AM    Report this comment

Kent and Mark

I find it hard to believe that 'the public' have decided anything. First, where is the evidence? Instead I think we are seeing what Thomas Sowell and John Stossel call the 'Vison (or conceit) of the anointed,' which is a few people creating a market for their expertise. for example, the global warming crowd have created a need for climate control which has morphed into carbon control because it gives them sweeping powers; Lead fear needs experts to testify to a judge that it is bad in any form. Asbestos, Alar, PCBs and freon all fall into the same category. Joe Sixpack and Susie Q Homemaker know they are being screwed but they don't know how to stop it. Yes, a few ignorant think they are being saved from a demon created by the anointed, and the anointed are in a position to help them. Sadly, the anointed are in position were they can create 'rules' with the force of law and we have no means of legal redress. Congress gave that power to the bureaucrats so they can focus on re-election. If congress didn't want 'crats to have the power, they could easily take it back, but the status quo works for to their advantage. In the end, follow the money.

Posted by: THOMAS M CONNOR | May 14, 2011 2:55 PM    Report this comment

With regard to the EPA 2008 report on lead in 100LL: I could not find where they made a distinction between 2.5 grams/gallon of TEL added to base stock and actual lead (the report's preamble says lead). Are the differences significant?

I asked a a petro-engineer friend. Here are the numbers:

Molecular weight of lead: 207. Molecular weight of TEL:
324. So nearly 2/3 of TEL's weight comes from lead. In addition, the
lead additization mixture is about 2/3 TEL, and 1/3 scavengers, like
dibromoethane, which has a molecular weight of 188. So looking at
the entire mix, lead makes up half the weight.
This is worse case based on max allowable TEL and not average, which is based on the detonations resistance of the base stock.

I said all that to say this: The EPA report may be inaccurate by about 50%, perhaps more. Worth bringing up.

Posted by: THOMAS M CONNOR | May 14, 2011 5:07 PM    Report this comment

ok - make my lead estimate .0020 oz per acre per year.

Posted by: MARC SALVISBERG | May 14, 2011 7:52 PM    Report this comment

"First, where is the evidence?"

Take a look at the reduction in airports in CA in the last 15 years. Take a look ate the insurance rates of the remaining airports and the number of lawsuits. Take a poll of people living near airports. THAT is why I can say that "the public" has no love of piston GA aircraft. It interferes with their interests....

Posted by: Mark Fraser | May 14, 2011 9:50 PM    Report this comment

How much is 2 ten thousandths of an oz, spread out over an acre?
.002 / 43560 = 4.59136823 10-8
.0000000046 oz per sq ft? (give or take a decimal point)

Posted by: MARC SALVISBERG | May 14, 2011 10:18 PM    Report this comment

Mark, some of the population has indeed lost their love of GA piston planes. The question we have to ask is why? Then, what can we do about it?

Personally, I'm getting involved with Angelflight and Young Eagles. We need to change the public perception that flying is an inaccessible club of rich guys playing with their airplanes from government subsidized airports where the average joe will never participate.

Posted by: Josh Johnson | May 15, 2011 12:44 PM    Report this comment

The "public perception" is noise, danger, and lower property values. Those are VALID reasons to not like GA piston aviation. This latest assault is also 100% Valid and Legal.

Basically the 98.2% of the population is correct; GA is a nuisance to them. GA piston is an aboration, a pursuit of the rich or weird, it's not normal nor needed in the society.

What to do? Make yourself invisible or buy something that will take you into the future. That is Experimental, not "industry" 1950's tech, not 100LL, not any support from AOPA.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | May 15, 2011 8:16 PM    Report this comment

People are afraid of lead -- out of ignorance. It is not a problem. Washington state banned lead wheelweights amid environmental claims that they get strewn along roads by tires throwing them off. That is extremely rare. Lead was and is the most recycled metal in the US.

As a commercial bullet caster, I have been around lead on a daily basis. Unless the lead is over 900 degrees F, it is not toxic to inhale. So the only way to get lead poising is to ingest it. So even if you had a highly contaminated site, as long as you didn't eat the dirt you would be OK.

These people suing are not going to respond to logic or facts. For them it's an emotional topic fueled by irrational fears (no pun intended). As for settling; sure they'd take the money. But instead the federal government should step in and get all of their in-house attorneys involved and let them handle it. Aviation fuel should certainly come under the category of "interstate commerce", one of the few areas of power the constitution actually grants to the federal government.

Posted by: JIM DUNN | May 16, 2011 7:29 AM    Report this comment

"People are afraid of lead -- out of ignorance."

And politicians represent those people. That's why the future is more stupid laws, more fear-based restrictions, more TFR's and TSA, and higher prices.

Rational risk assessment has long ago left in favor of junk-science, feel-good laws, and more fear of little planes not under direct control from a tower on the ground.

YES, it's all ignorance. Now what?

Posted by: Mark Fraser | May 16, 2011 7:45 AM    Report this comment

You people are so inconsiderate -- you can always replace your lead wheel weights with those made of another dense, heavy metal, uranium.

Posted by: Brian McCulloch | May 16, 2011 7:52 AM    Report this comment

Or Gold. That way we can spend $10,000 for a set of tires instead of $500.

Posted by: JIM DUNN | May 16, 2011 7:57 AM    Report this comment

Throwing mud at the messenger will not help fuel your airplane. Leaded Fuel is going to disappear; you and your engine will be better off. Forget the anger and move to solutions.

Most engines are happy on 91 Octane Mogas; provide it without alcohol; a political problem.

Produce 100 Octane unleaded; the product has been available in Europe for years.

Certify a retrofit FADEC; several experimental versions work well; Lycoming wants you to buy a whole new engine; how likely is that?

Stop wasting time complaining and get on with it!

Posted by: BRIAN HOPE | May 16, 2011 8:03 AM    Report this comment

Mr Hope, why not sue the Federal government? They are the ones blocking new development of technology that would allow lower octane fuels. The aviation public would love such a solution, but the onerous regulations make even simple modifications like a adding a shoulder harness to the front seats of an airplane cost over $1500 USD. Unfortunately your expectations are based on what should be, not what is.

Unfortunately due to liability issues and government controls, we are still flying engines designed in the 1940's and 1950's that do not feature knock-detection and variable spark advance, etc. that are required to burn low octane fuel. Do you think we like spending $6 to $9/gallon to use an antiquated fuel in our antiquated airplanes? Would we like to have an inexpensive solution? Of course. But modifications to an engine could cost $30,000 on an airplane worth $25,000. Maybe others can afford such an expense but I cannot. And if you think it doesn't matter to you, think again. You can look forward to the time when you get on an airliner and it is flown without a pilot, in part because training has become too expensive.

So sue the government, not the few remaining businesses that are trying to survive these hard times.

Posted by: JIM DUNN | May 16, 2011 8:36 AM    Report this comment

The whole 100LL debate is just unbelievable to me. "Announcement is expected later this year" - yeah, right. Perhaps that announcement will say that the last 100LL pump will be decommissioned in a grand ceremony in 2050. The fact is - there is no _technical_ reason not to get rid of lead in gas right now, period. This lawsuit is actually beneficial for the debate because is forces the issue in ways not discussed before - by putting the gas schlang on the line at least in one state and forcing to find a much quicker solution. Once the solution is found in CA - other states will hopefully follow.

Posted by: Andrei Volkov | May 16, 2011 8:42 AM    Report this comment

Forget the conspiracy stuff - very few greenies are going to get rich out of this. As for this being a power grab - cummon. Even if the lead in 100LL comes within a bee's you-know-what of zero effect on the environment, the fact it is there at all is going to rile more and more people up. As others allude to, I agree that the current trend is for GA to seem more and more like an expensive, exclusive club. I'd say that this action will fail but it seems clear there will be more. Better to jump in a direction of one's own choosing rather than being pushed by the heathens!

Posted by: John Hogan | May 16, 2011 10:39 AM    Report this comment

"The fact is - there is no _technical_ reason not to get rid of lead in gas right now, period."

Well, there's cost. Despite what some have said, adding TEL is the cheapest way to get the detonation margins required by the ASTM spec. By blending more expensive feed stocks fuel can be made without it I'm told, but it will cost more. I don't know how much more, but I recall that the required dose of TEL/gallon was about $0.05 five years ago. If the petro feed stock required to make up the detonation margin costs 25% more/gallon that would be quite a financial shock. I'd provide links, but this site no longer allows it. True, Autogas will work for some of us, and 92UL for the other 80%. The detonation margins are for the 20% of the high compression engines that burn 80% of the fuel. One also has to look at the vapor pressure of autogas and other alternatives: vapor lock is not fun, and is the reason cars have pusher pumps in the tank. Peterson's autogas STC also requires pusher pumps for some low-wing aircraft, so it's a recognized problem. Solvable? yep. Just add money.

Posted by: THOMAS M CONNOR | May 16, 2011 10:55 AM    Report this comment

As a resident of Southeast Michigan and a participant in the SE MI automotive engineering community since 1977, I know how the purely emotional, purely intellectual, purely ego needs of self-appointed "consumer activists" have become more important to the powers-that-be than the practical needs and desires of tens of millions of road-going American citizens. Look at the efforts of environmentalists to hustle state legislatures for ever more draconian corporate average fuel economy laws. So I'm not surprized by the anti-100LL lawsuit in California.

Posted by: Alex Kovnat | May 16, 2011 2:27 PM    Report this comment

I have a news flash for John Hogan. While individual greenies may not be getting much money out of these lawsuits, the organizations they support and their lawyers are. As a dirt biker (trail rider), I've watched them sue the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management for years, to the point that they are spending more of our tax money defending and settling lawsuits than they are managing public lands. The government is required to pay their legal expenses (usually staggering) as well as giving them a cut of any settlement. You'd be surprised how much money these groups can make this way.

Posted by: John Worsley | May 16, 2011 6:29 PM    Report this comment

Better to jump in a direction of one's own choosing rather than being pushed by the heathens!

I like that.

Posted by: THOMAS M CONNOR | May 16, 2011 7:46 PM    Report this comment

It seems to me "there ought to be a law" -- namely, one that requires the loser in any lawsuit to pay the winner's legal costs. That could be secured on the claimant side by requiring a claimant (who might otherwise have no assets from which to pay the winner) to post a surety-backed bond at the time a claim is filed. The bond would be an amount intended to approximate a sum sufficient to cover legal costs of the defense should the defense win, although the actual recovery would be limited to reasonable charges as determined by the court. Because determining a forecast for defending against a claim would be difficult in individual cases, you could simplify matters by adopting a rule that, for example, requires the bond to be 10% of the amount claimed, which the claimant would have to specify. To increase the amount claimed, the claimant would have to increased the bond amount. With this kind of "loser pays" system secured by a qualified bond, I suspect CEH would find it too expensive to purchase the required bond and would thus never sue.

Posted by: ADAM BROOME | May 16, 2011 8:59 PM    Report this comment

Is say lets outlaw internal combustion in CA, let these folks go back to horse and buggys and all the sain people can move east!

Posted by: Brad Snodgrass | May 18, 2011 6:38 AM    Report this comment

Suing the Federal Government won't put fuel in your tank. Slamming the messenger won't put fuel in your tank. Endlessly talking about the problem won't put fuel in your tank.

GAMI and Swift are trying to put fuel in your tank. The Europeans have a high octane Avgas, and it costs about the same as 100LL; it will put fuel in your tank.

It is technically possible to retrofit a FADEC to your "1940's" engine and make it use less fuel. There is no earthly reason it would cost $30,000; that is the Lycoming solution of a new engine. The components are inexpensive and reliable because they are made in the millions for automotive use. Various experimental versions work. The dual self powered systems go in the existing mag drives. The fuel injectors go in the primer holes or the intake runners. bolt the knock sensors to the cylinders. (pretty much what both engine manufacturers have already demonstrated) All this has already been demonstrated to work. Someone needs to step up and certify a retrofittable self powered system. This would lower octane requirements through modern technigues of engine management.

Leaded fuel could literally disappear overnight if the one manufacturer decides to stop making the TEL, or the distribution systems goes away. If we are still arguing among ourselves when that happens, we will save lots of money, because we won't be flying.

Posted by: BRIAN HOPE | May 18, 2011 7:52 AM    Report this comment

Due to my work getting autogas onto airports, lawyers from both the FOE and CEH have contacted me in recent weeks. I am skeptical of enviro-extremists, but I found the people at FOE and CEH to be reasonable and interested in all sides of the argument. They left no impression that their motive was to destroy GA, but to seek reductions in lead emissions to the atmosphere. Both groups were already quite aware of the 20+ year effort to find an unleaded avgas, and that ethanol-free autogas poses a solution that exists now for the majority of aircraft. Rightfully, they ask why aviation has not expanded the use of autogas to begin the transition away from leaded fuel. As far as the public is concerned, here in central North Carolina we do not have any major problems, with the notable exception of Chapel Hill, a liberal arts university town. It helps that our major GA airfields are located far from congested areas, and that my EAA chapter has given 1000+ Young Eagle flights annually for the past 10 years. Europeans figured out long ago that quiet airplanes are not noticed by the public, something we could improve on in the US. If we do not find an alternative to $6 Avgas soon though, it won't really matter as sport aviation will be dead. The average number of hours flown on airplanes being annualled in our area is now around 25. For the first time I can recall, there are empty hangars looking for airplanes. It is serious, and $10 100UL is not going to solve anything.

Posted by: Kent Misegades | May 18, 2011 8:10 AM    Report this comment

"Rightfully, they ask why aviation has not expanded the use of autogas to begin the transition away from leaded fuel."

Kent, Rightful? Ask FOE and CEH to produce even one shred of evidence that 100LL has done harm. Since when is it "rightful" to make decisions based on non-logic and no evidence?

Here is "rightful", make FOE/CEH do a cost/benefit analysis of the cost of what they suggest Vs the actual benefit to public health. Rightful people would say that increasing cost without measurable benefit is less than sane.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | May 18, 2011 10:03 AM    Report this comment

Mark, you may not like the results of that evidence. While I agree that the amount of lead is negligible and that we have other more significant polluters, the notion that 100LL is harmless is absurd and not believable to the public.
I've said before, and firmly believe that our best hope is to move most of GA to mogas or other unleaded fuels, and hope for a slow transition so those with older high compression engines don't have to drop tens of thousands on their aircraft before overhaul.

Posted by: Josh Johnson | May 18, 2011 12:04 PM    Report this comment

Mark, you may not like the results of that evidence. While I agree that the amount of lead is negligible and that we have other more significant polluters, the notion that 100LL is harmless is absurd and not believable to the public.
I've said before, and firmly believe that our best hope is to move most of GA to mogas or other unleaded fuels, and hope for a slow transition so those with older high compression engines don't have to drop tens of thousands on their aircraft before overhaul.

Posted by: Josh Johnson | May 18, 2011 12:04 PM    Report this comment

Kent Misegades
I've also dealt with friendly and inquisitive lawyers who seem open to all viewpoints of a discussion, and was stunned when they used my points of view against me in court. It's the good cop/bad cop routine that all interrogators use and it's amazingly successful. It's also called discovery: They do the research, gather all points of view and data, then develop arguments that best fit their agenda. John Stossel writes extensively of this, and lazy reporters love lawyers because many consider legal 'discovery' good research, so they may both have the same viewpoint.

There's also the political aspect: Remember how DOJ went after Microsoft for giving away free software? Microsoft at the time spent their money doing R&D not lobbying. Today instead of spending millions to defend against lawsuits Microsoft spends it on lobbyists. If you are really big like GE you can get government consideration and even marketing. Perhaps that is what we need: Better lobbyists.

Posted by: THOMAS M CONNOR | May 18, 2011 12:22 PM    Report this comment

Mark, I think you misunderstood me. The CEH and FOE ask why, if autogas is an FAA-approved, unleaded aviation fuel and is generally available, why the FAA does not work harder to get it onto airports for those who can use it, thus reducing lead emissions without great expense or need for new certification. As much as it pains me, knowing of the lack of evidence that Avgas is causing health problems, we lost that battle in the public eye long ago. One needs to fight battles that can be won, and autogas is worth it. It is a bit like telling the public that airplane noise is great, regardless how loud and infrequent. Most pilots would agree - non-pilots wouldn't.

Posted by: Kent Misegades | May 18, 2011 12:32 PM    Report this comment

There are several things that are misleading here, Kent. First, "we the people" didn't really decide that lead had to go. When the Clean Air Act and its various iterations came along, the auto industry drove it by insisting on adapting technology--catalytic converters--that were antithetic to lead. Although air and water standards for lead came along eventually, as well as for buildings and so forth, initially, reducing lead came along for the ride. Eventually, everyone piled and groups likes CEH could make it appear that any right thinking person knows that next to plutonium, lead is the most toxic substance in the universe, whether it is true or not.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | May 18, 2011 4:07 PM    Report this comment

Paul, I do not disagree with you, but you and I are not part of the post-leaded-gasoline generation that is terrified of lead in any and all forms, as illogical and unfounded as their fears might be. I simply believe this is not worth the battle relative to the massive public and political opposition to ethanol and the chance that, with a bit of help from the alphabets, we could preserve ethanol-free premium and get it onto airports. I firmly believe that by demonstrating action to reduce 100LL's use now, instead of yet-another-unleaded-avgas-study-group, the FOE and CEH will allow the market to resolve the inevitable replacement of leaded fuel by autogas plus 100UL/94UL/etc.

Posted by: Kent Misegades | May 18, 2011 4:19 PM    Report this comment

Paul: Wonderful point. Like Algore's hockey stick graph, cause and effect got reversed. The media is doing the same with the tsunami that killed 18k plus Japanese and damaged the nuclear power plant: It's clear that someone wants 'we the people' to think the plant had something to do with those deaths. In reality, like Three Mile Island there have been exactly zero deaths or injuries attributed to radiation.

Posted by: THOMAS M CONNOR | May 18, 2011 4:22 PM    Report this comment

What I object to about agenda-driven groups like CEH is that while they work in the public interest, they often lack balance for the public good, inflating all minor environmental problems into major ones.

I think it's naive to argue that groups like this are willing to make a happy accommodation. If CEH was, they would let the FAA-ARC run its course, see where Friends of the Earth goes and note in passing that avgas sales continue to decline, thus we have a self-solving problem, albeit slowly. And by the way, Friends were *pointedly* invited to attend the FAA ARC, several times. They refused. To me, this is a mark of bad faith.

Last, if CEH proceeds with lawsuits under this ill-advised California statute, it could cost businesses real revenues, real customers and real jobs. It could cost owners lost investment dollars. And what's the tradeoff? An unproven, dismally small reduction in lead emissions for which no clinical data exists proving a scintilla of harm, other than lead is toxic.

I realize it's fashionable to say GA should fight the battles it can win. But this one is a pile-on, a fight that kicks a fragile industry and attacks individual players. It is bad public policy.

One last thing, if I might. When you push your systems for selling unleaded mogas and wonder why owners pushback, spare a thought for a Bonanza, or a Cirrus or a Mooney drivers whose investment requires avgas.

For I can assure if that market goes away, yours might look a little thin, too.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | May 18, 2011 4:27 PM    Report this comment

Paul, I have spoken with the FOE and CEH on several occasions and do not have the impression they are ignorant of the negative effects their actions might have on aviation. I am not defending their actions, but I do believe you can kill more flies with honey than with a hammer, maybe it's a Southern thing. These groups will have the public on their side, whether we like this or not. As far as "pushing my systems" is concerned, I fear you are misinformed - my business sells 99.9% of its products for Avgas & Jet-A and I do not expect this to change much in the future. My work on behalf of a broad coalition trying to preserve ethanol-free gasoline stems from my concerns over the future of grassroots sport aviation as the president of one of the largest EAA chapters in the country. Just got another call today from a major glider club in New York that are shocked they can no longer find ethanol-free to fuel their Pawnee and Husky towplanes. They've used it with good results for many years. Spent another half hour trying to help a small airport survive, and ask for nothing in return. Maybe I see this wrong, but adding autogas as an option ought to reduce opposition and lengthen the life of Avgas, which owners of Mooneys, Cirruses, Bonanzas etc. should want, right? Did you know, BTW, that 15 models of Bonanzas can be run on autogas with STCs?

Posted by: Kent Misegades | May 18, 2011 4:47 PM    Report this comment

"While I agree that the amount of lead is negligible..."

Everyone agrees that the amount and risk is negligible while the interruption of it's sale to the Aviation community would be devastating. Compare negligible Vs.devastating. That's WHY it's not sane to do a lot of damage for zero measurable benefit.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | May 18, 2011 4:56 PM    Report this comment

These treehuggers then need to remove the venerable lead-acid batteries from their cars as the disposition of these batteries at life's end is questionable and can be hazardous to the environment.

Posted by: WILLIAM LANDMAN | May 18, 2011 5:04 PM    Report this comment

Josh Johnson wrote: the notion that 100LL is harmless is absurd and not believable to the public." And there you have it. Give up, bend over because here it comes.

In reality it is bureaus that believe such things and rarely commoners, because it justifies the bureau's budget and empire building. We the people think the opposite and are into the magic of radon (look up the curative powers or the Merry Widow Mine in MT), the usefulness freon had at a buck a pound and that the cheek and jowl is the natural place to store spare lead fishing sinkers. With time the EPA has become a bit more enlightened: The EPA got it's start with the Asbestos scare supported by the research reported in an authorless, data-free 'white paper.' The EPA has gone from the insane position that asbestos must be removed immediately from all public buildings to 'entrainment in place,' which is bureaucratese for 'paint it over and move on.'

When the EPA threatened the residents of Leadville Colorado with eviction or the expense of removing their homes built on lead mine tailings out of fear for the children a local doctor challenged them with data proving that the chillin' had lower lead/blood levels than the national average, so he challenged them to prove that this is a threat. The EPA backed down.

Posted by: THOMAS M CONNOR | May 18, 2011 5:16 PM    Report this comment

NASCAR had the same exemption from leaded fuel that GA has. Nascar caved and began using unleaded fuel in 2008. I suspect Sunoco - the official- and only fuel supplier for nascar - made it economical to do by subsidizing a lead free fuel in exchange for eternal sponsorship. Google Sunoco for their point of view. Google 'nascar fuel' for a bit broader perspective.

Posted by: THOMAS M CONNOR | May 18, 2011 5:16 PM    Report this comment

Tom - more recently, the ethanol lobby has convinced (paid) NASCAR to use E15 in races. I live in NASCAR land (NC) and they'll take money from anyone if the price is right. When your engine is designed to only last a few hours, you can design it to run on a tank of rat urine if paid to do it. Means nothing to the public really. NASCAR fans only care which number wins the race.

Posted by: Kent Misegades | May 18, 2011 5:22 PM    Report this comment

Kent: A pound of ethanol has about 12800 btu/lb and octane has 22800 btu/lb. Mixing 15% of EtoH with 85% C8 must make for more fuel stops for a race. I wonder how Nascar manages it, and if they publicize the energy penalty? maybe they install bigger tanks? EtoH burns clear with no flame. That might keep it interesting for the pit and fire crews.

Posted by: THOMAS M CONNOR | May 18, 2011 9:43 PM    Report this comment

Tom - I do not know the details, but suspect you can find this on the web sites for NASCAR or Growth Energy, the ethanol industry lobby. Remember that NASCAR has all sorts of limitations that make no real sense for normal cars, for instance restrictor plates.

Posted by: Kent Misegades | May 19, 2011 5:28 AM    Report this comment

Tom, you are probably right that the majority of people couldnt care less about leaded avgas, R12 freon and such. The question becomes then, can enough people be mobized to save it? I'm guessing that since Freon is going away that 100LL wont be far behind. This "will of the people" stuff gets people excited, but ignores the reality of our nations structure. We are a constitutional republic, not a democracy, the will of the people often does not succeed (and far too often minority lobbyists are the ones who do)

Posted by: Josh Johnson | May 19, 2011 6:20 AM    Report this comment


I think part of the problem is that some of us think 100ll is worth saving and the other think it is time to get off our duff and find something else. The 20 years 'searching' for a replacement may be a smoke screen, may be for real. The Swedes have it figured out with the Hjelmco 91/96UL and I'm confused why it isn't a consideration here.

Nobody denies that engine technology seems stuck in the 40s, and Honda tried to improve on it by building a proof of concept aero engine. The result was a boxer configurations low RPM unit just like the Lyc and Continental engines. some have tried turbines with limited success, and the experimental guys I know who started with auto engines in their RVs all settled on Lycomings. Those burning autogas have scare stories of vaporlock problems at high OATs (not that 100LL is immune, but it seems more resistant). And there are the feds spring loaded to the 'disapproved' position to any change in the status quo.

As an aside, IMHO modern agriculture is the conversion of hyrdocarbon fuel into food. Thus using agriculture to convert food into hydrocarbon fuel is a thermodynamic loser that cannot survive without subsidy.

Posted by: THOMAS M CONNOR | May 19, 2011 1:27 PM    Report this comment

It's possible, by analyzing the isotopes of lead, to determine from whence it came. Therefore lead found in CA should be able to be analyzed to determine what percent came from lead originating with Innospec (European) as opposed to the 29% of airborne lead in CA that actually wafts in from China, or legacy lead left over from when we used leaded autogas in the US which I presume originated in the US.

Posted by: Todd L. Petersen | May 19, 2011 3:11 PM    Report this comment


Are you the fuel STC guy?

What is innospec?

Posted by: THOMAS M CONNOR | May 19, 2011 3:45 PM    Report this comment

Innospec is the only manufacturer of Tetra Ethyl Lead.

Yes I have auto fuel STC's.

Posted by: Todd L. Petersen | May 19, 2011 3:57 PM    Report this comment

Innospec is not the only manufacturer of TEL. There are sources in China, some supplying the south and east Asia leaded-fuel markets, which still exist.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | May 19, 2011 6:10 PM    Report this comment

Innospec is the only manufacturer of tetra ethyl lead for use in 100LL in North America. So my point is that the source of the lead could be determined if someone wanted to spend the money and that should settle the argument as to the amount being distributed by light airplanes in California.

Posted by: Todd L. Petersen | May 19, 2011 6:57 PM    Report this comment

I'm a bit late here, but for those who do not live or fly in CA, I suggest this issue could be very serious. I hope AvWeb (Paul), AOPA, et al, stay on top of this.

Proposition 65 was passed by 63% of CA voters in 1986. It currently covers a list of 905 'toxic substances' that 'cause cancer or birth defects'.

The proposition is very powerful, and somewhat biased, if you are business oriented.

It allows lawsuits against businesses by private parties and non-governmental organizations "for the public good".

If a suit is filed, the 'burden of proof' is the responsibility of the business being sued, not the plaintiff.

I know this sounds ridiculous, but is true. If I were to file a suit against my FBO claiming his 100LL fuel was leaking out of the fuel farm tanks and contaminating water my grandson drank, he/she would have to prove otherwise. It is expensive to prove a negative.

Posted by: Edd Weninger | May 20, 2011 4:09 PM    Report this comment

I think the reason Hjelmco's fuel hasn't taken hold here in America is that so far, 100LL has been readily available and relatively cheap. Now that there seems to be legitimate threats to the availability and price of 100LL, alternative fuels might just take hold.

I can see both sides of the 100 octane issue, as I have customers who require it, fly airplanes that require it, and own an airplane that I still run mogas in and avoid 100LL like the plague (fouls the plugs in my o-300 and I'm saving $1.50 - $2.00 a gallon over 100LL)

It appears to me the future of GA rests in reigning in the cost of flying for the little guys. I believe it's in all of our best interests to get non-flyers out taking lessons, for as reasonable cost as possible. For that reason, I hope that we move towards a mogas future. It seems to me the leaded fuel arguments we have used for years have been used up, and it's going away - perhaps simply for the reason that FBO's and oil companies won't be able to afford to provide it because of lawsuits.

I'm just not sure that it will fly with Joe the public that a GA owner can't afford $15k to modify his $130k - $200k Navajo so it will run on unleaded fuel. Especially when Joe public just spent $130 to have his car AC charged by a shop with recovery equipment due to EPA regulations. I disagree that 100LL is a significant source of lead, but I fear that fact just doesn't matter anymore.

Posted by: Josh Johnson | May 20, 2011 4:30 PM    Report this comment

Josh, there is NO $15K mod that will allow a Navaho to work with a non-existant unleaded fuel. And, you're right, the lead issue was decided a long time ago.

Posted by: Edd Weninger | May 20, 2011 6:15 PM    Report this comment

We are on the wrong side of the general public.

There is enough political support from the relatively wealthy area of Bixby Knolls in Long Beach CA to have the City Council limit the number of scheduled airline operations at KLGB to 40 per day. We have a beautiful 10,000 foot runway that could easily handle a lot more and provide convenient freeway accessible relief for LAX. And, noise abatement does not allow operations before 7 am or after 10 pm.

The wealthy people of Newport Beach do not like the noise of departures from KSNA over-flying their homes, and the moderately wealthy people in Anaheim Hills do not like the over-flying approaches, so there's constant complaining. Again, noise abatement from 7 am - 10 pm

The city of Santa Monica has been trying to close KSMO for decades, complaining about noise, safety, lead pollution, et al.

I'm not sure of issues around Van Nuys but I'll wager they exist.

I'm afraid this lawsuit will provide another weapon to further motivate these political forces.

Dang, how can I be so pessimistic.

Posted by: Edd Weninger | May 20, 2011 6:18 PM    Report this comment

Edd, it is not pessimism, it is the reality. We can make our planes quieter, and a plane that is not heard is one that is not seen. Germany's Gomolzig has produced excellent exhaust systems for aircraft that lower their noise dramatically. Better props do the rest. Mogas works find for most planes, and Petersen/AirPlains will soon have ADI injection for C210s and Barons for under $15k, perhaps one day for a Navajo, too.

Posted by: Kent Misegades | May 20, 2011 6:44 PM    Report this comment

"We can make our planes quieter, and a plane that is not heard is one that is not seen. "

Reality is that people (around airports) will still complain; a slightly quieter plane is still a plane to them. The same lawyers who argue against 100LL today will move on to argue against airports tomorrow.

MoGas is also still gas. Going from LL to zero-lead also makes little difference. All gas/oil is seen as bad for the environment AND and easy source for more taxes. Lower quality fuel still will be a higher cost.

I agree, the general public has no interest in GA. The lawyers and government represent the general public. The math is easier than calculating a magnetic heading...

Posted by: Mark Fraser | May 21, 2011 7:39 AM    Report this comment

Mark, there is a whole lot of truth to all of your arguments listed here. I think the LL issue is lost, partly because we have done a terrible job promoting the value of our activity to the public. Think of golf courses. They're being built with taxpayer money on prime real-estate for a fraction of the population to play an expensive game upon. Why do they get built - green space.

Our airports are virtually inaccessible to kids today. I'd say that every Young Eagle flight turns a family who may be indifferent to GA into supporters. If we can re-brand our activity into an educational outreach, perhaps we could sway public opinion somewhat.

Posted by: Josh Johnson | May 21, 2011 9:39 PM    Report this comment

The 100LL is lost because (as the story states) there is a law against lead and lawyers willing to sue the "deep pockets" of oil companies. Airports are now prime real estate and worth more to cash strapped cities by creating taxable retail outlets or condos.

The public is correct that there is little "value" in GA activity as opposed to a park, pool, or golf course where a lot more of the public is served. The public is served by big planes at big airports.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | May 23, 2011 9:21 AM    Report this comment

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