EPA finds lead contamination in small planes threatens human health



of environmental protection agency On Wednesday, the agency announced it had determined that lead emitted by aircraft poses a public health hazard, opening the door for the agency’s first restrictions on leaded aviation fuel.

The move puts the Biden administration in the middle of a heated battle over how long airports, especially smaller airports, can continue selling leaded gasoline despite the health risks posed by this powerful neurotoxin. More than 170,000 small planes, known as piston-engine aircraft, still use leaded gasoline, according to the EPA, leaving thousands of airports across the country wondering how quickly this form of fuel can be phased out. Discussion continues.

The agency first proposed the move last year. This is a formal step known as a “hazard finding,” and the Clean Air Act now requires government agencies to set new rules for substances that aircraft engines can emit.

“The science is clear: Exposure to lead can cause irreversible and lifelong health effects in children,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in a statement. “Aircraft using leaded fuel are the main source of lead emissions in the atmosphere.”

The EPA and the Federal Aviation Administration have already begun considering options, the EPA said. The effort comes as Congress considers long-term reauthorization of the FAA, including a bipartisan proposal passed by the House that would effectively require small airports to continue selling leaded gasoline.

Because commercial jets do not use leaded fuel, the rule only affects small aircraft that carry between two and 10 passengers, the EPA said. On average, these aircraft have been in use for nearly 50 years. Although these planes represent a small portion of the aviation industry, the agency said they still pose a risk near airports, many of which are primarily in or near poor and minority communities. .

The EPA said lead exposure can cause behavioral problems, lower IQ and slower growth. The agency is also seeking to tighten rules against lead contamination, in part in response to emerging scientific consensus that even the most minute levels of lead can harm children.

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