“A clear injustice,” hearing calls for leaded aviation fuel ban

Just five blocks away from the Reid-Hillview Airport in Santa Clara County, California, Maricela Lechuga lives among a community of 52,000 residents who are predominantly Latino, many also immigrants.

The general aviation airport does not serve commercial air travel, but does serve a range of other public aviation activities; in 2019 it had more than 200,000 take-offs and landings.

It is also known as one of the highest lead emitting airports in the United States, a fact spotlighted Thursday in a U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform subcommittee hearing called to examine health harms associated with leaded aviation fuel.

The Clean Air Act banned leaded gas for passenger cars in 1996 after phasing in an unleaded gasoline. However, lead fuel continues to power over 170,000 piston-engine aircrafts mainly flown for hobbyist, private, emergency, or training purposes. These planes and helicopters contribute about 70% of all lead emissions to the air in the United States, according to a 2021 report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

Despite petitions calling to ban leaded aviation fuel that date back to 2006, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has failed to address the issue through regulation, a delay that is creating injustice and danger for people living not just near Reid-Hillview Airport, but numerous others around the country, according to critics.