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Van Nuys, Long Beach airports cited as major lead polluters


The Center for Environmental Health on Tuesday announced impending legal action against more than 40 suppliers of aviation fuel containing lead, often used in piston-powered aircraft engines, at California airports.

The Oakland-based group blames ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP, Shell, AvFuel Corp. and 38 other suppliers for water and air pollution around 25 airports in California, including Van Nuys Airport, Long Beach/Daugherty Field and LAX.

“The oil and aviation industries need to know Californians will not tolerate lead pollution that threatens our health and healthy environments,” Michael Green, executive director of CEH, said in a statement. “We expect the industries to take immediate action to eliminate pollution that endangers children and families who live, work and play near airports across the state.”

Van Nuys, which handles a lot of civil aviation using piston-engine aircraft, had the highest levels of lead emissions among 3,413 airports nationwide, according to EPA.

Most of the lead pollution highlighted by the agency and the environmental group is airborne, although facilities at seven airports have polluted local groundwater, according to the group.

The EPA is in the process of establishing regulations governing leaded aviation fuel, or avgas, in response to a petition from Friends of the Earth. The General Aviation Avgas Coalition has been working on a "very low lead"-grade fuel that would reduce lead content by about 20% over the commonly used fuel.

Tuesday's action alleges violations of the California Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act, and serves notice that the group plans to file a lawsuit within 60 days, a requirement under Proposition 65.


Regulators crack down on lead emissions from L.A. battery recycling plants

Santa Monica Airport a major pollution source

Freeway air pollution linked to brain damage in mice

-- Geoff Mohan

Photo: Many civilian aircraft, such as these at Van Nuys Airport, rely on leaded fuel. Credit: Carlos Chave /Los Angeles Times

Comments () | Archives (9)

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General aviation is a small small group of people in a very very large society. I doubt that there is more than 10,000 small planes in this area and of those few fly more than 50 hours a year. This taken with consideration of all the other pollution contributing factors seems like a distraction from the bigger and more complex issue. With millions of cars, trucks and other sources contributing every day it's crazy to target such a small source. If you believe that airports and planes are destroying your life then wait and see what will follow when the local airfield is replace with 10,000 new neighbors. Look at the size of Los Angeles then think about what these people are telling you. It makes no sense.

Yeah, it makes a great deal of sense to just ground the 50,000+ aircraft in California that run on these leaded fuels. Who cares about the thousands of pilots, flight instructors, mechanics, airport FBO operators, linemen, avionics shops and the probably 500,000 workers that would be out of jobs...not to mention the shockwaves it would send through the entire transportation infrastructure in CA.

These people act like aircraft owners can just make the choice to pump unleaded auto gas into their aircraft. It would destroy the engines that were designed to have that lead in the fuel for crucial non-detonating operation.

Everything in aviation is regulated by the FAA (I know CA thinks it is its own country, but pretend for a moment you still belong to the union). The FAA moves pretty slow. They are working with aircraft manufacturers and engine manufacturers to get to a non-lead solution...but safety comes first - as well as practicality. You cannot just ask tens of thousands of aircraft owners to cough up $30,000 - $100,000 for a new engine, especially when many of them have a newly overhauled engine with a hefty investment.

We all want the lead out - and it is coming. But liberal radicals like The Center for Environmental Health need to get a grip on reality. So they are going to sue the oil companies that produce the fuel EXACTLY to the specifications of the aircraft? Get real.

I own two aircraft with low compression engines that are FAA approved to use Unleaded Auto Fuel. The issue is that auto fuel must contain 0% Ethanol. Since that is no longer available in CA any longer, I must use 100LL Avgas. If unleaded autogas were available to me without the energy robbing, corrosive, false national economy claims of Ethanol, I would be using it.
The report from CEH says that the use of aviation low led gas causes lead in avgas can cause spark plug fouling, valve sticking, piston-ring land contamination and preignition due to lead deposits on piston crowns. This was an issue 20 years ago when 80 octane Avgas was fazed out. Today that is not an issue as the amount of lead in 100LL Avgas has been cut in half, and better valves have been introduced for the low compression engines like mine. Higher compression engined aircraft do not have a ready answer for a non leaded replacement just yet. Several are being looked at , but none are FAA approved as of yet. Safety of flight is the primary concern.
This lawsuit may not go far as the safety of aircraft flight is at issue here, and this is primarly an FAA concern. The FAA sets all the standards. It would have to go all the way to the Supreme Court to overturn the FAA I think.

I couldn't care less if they shut Van Nuys airport down and turned it into a giant landfill.

by the looks of these comments, maybe we should be questioning the fact if lead actually exists at all...

There are two sides to every story, LA Times. It is completely irresponsible for you to focus on one side, and an ill-informed side at that.

General Aviation has been searching for an alternative to leaded fuel for at least the last twenty years. Those of us involved in aviation have a keen interest in this issue, as does the FAA, the EPA, and other government agencies. General Aviation is a crucial component of our economy and deserves public support. To throw a bomb like this into the middle of so much hard work and commitment to finding a solution to this issue is nothing short of journalistic terrorism.

I urge you to actually research this, instead of simply printing the blab of some no-nothing who has a giant axe to grind. DO YOUR HOMEWORK, LA Times.

How bout it?

Hey, who needs private aviation.

America is swimming in jobs!

At this moment, most of general aviation aircrafts are still powered by leaded fuel. The scene is dying because of the increasing price of the aircraft and the tree hugger's campaign against leaded fuel. I think EPA should stay away from general aviation.

"The Center for Environmental Health"? "The EPA is in the process of establishing regulations governing leaded aviation fuel, or avgas, in response to a petition from Friends of the Earth"???

Are any of the people aircraft and propulsion engineers? Are they aware of the reason why there is lead in AVGAS or are they just stuck on stupid while trying to make a buck and ground all aircraft that uses AVGAS.

Would someone show these Luddites the door? They are proposing "legal action'? What the heck is their standing in persecuting private pilots.

California has officially lost it's mind.


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