Leaded gasoline for cars has long been banned by the U.S. But smaller aircrafts continue to use leaded gasoline. The aviation industry has managed to escape America’s war on lead.
The fuel is exposing hundreds of thousands of children to lead poisoning. It is a massive public health crisis.
Fuel producers like Exxon Mobil and Chevron have repeatedly blocked efforts to create unleaded fuels for small aircraft.
This has had massive health consequences, especially for children who live below the flight path of small airplanes.
Lead was removed from gasoline decades ago. But the aviation fuel is still laced with the metal, which is a neurotoxin tied to developmental problems in children.
In East San Jose in California, toddlers have concentrations of lead in their blood on par with children tested at the height of the drinking water crisis in Flint, Michigan.
Experts say that the aviation and fuel industry has blocked multiple alternative fuels over the past 30 years.
The Federal Aviation Administration, the aviation industry, and the oil industry have pretended to search for a solution to the issue for three decades, experts say, but they keep blocking lower-octane fuel.
Efforts to develop unleaded, or even less heavily leaded, fuel for small airplanes, have been dependent on the approval of oil and aviation experts who meet through the nonprofit standards organization ASTM International.
Whether the inventor was a maker of piston-engine airplanes or a Swedish chemist, a new formula for lead-free gasoline went first to a committee that included fuel producers like Chevron and Exxon Mobil.
The panel has repeatedly rejected proposals to create unleaded fuels for small aircraft.
As a result, the Federal Aviation Administration has failed over multiple administrations to achieve a policy goal to move American fliers to cleaner fuels.
How big of an issue is the health crisis?
There are 5.2 million people that live within 500 meters of an airport runway, and 363,000 of them are children under five.
Research has shown that living that close to a general aviation airport can increase levels of lead in children’s blood. Lead is a neurotoxin that impairs cognitive development and is linked to lower IQ, meaning that any exposure to it can be incredibly damaging.