ABOVE: EPA was founded in 1970 to protect human health and the environment
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has determined that ‘emissions of lead from aircraft that operate on leaded fuel cause or contribute to air pollution,’ meaning the FAA must now ‘propose and promulgate regulatory standards for lead emissions from certain aircraft engines’.
Although levels of airborne lead in the United States have declined 99% since 1980, “communities near general airports… experience disproportionate exposure to lead from leaded aviation fuel emissions,” noted House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Ranking Member Zoe Lofgren. Echoing her sentiments, EPA Administrator Michael Regan clarified aircraft using leaded fuel to be the “dominant source of lead emissions in [America’s] air”.
This final determination by EPA will advance its ‘Lead Strategy to Reduce Lead Exposures and Disparities in U.S. Communities’. Having already ‘begun work to consider regulatory options to address lead emissions from aircraft engines,’ the FAA and EPA are expected to work in partnership to ‘engage all interested stakeholders and the general public’ before announcing timelines.
EPA notes that leaded avgas-burning aircraft are typically small GA piston types, approximately 45-47 years old. In early 2022, the FAA and industry launched an ‘Eliminate Aviation Gasoline Lead Emissions (EAGLE)’ programme; aiming to achieve a ‘lead-free aviation system no later than 2030’. Although the FAA has approved a 100 octane unleaded fuel, it is yet to become commercially available; a lower octane fuel, UL 94, is currently only available at around 35 U.S. airports.
IMAGE: UNITED STATES ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY