Colorado’s airports must transition quickly to offering only unleaded gas to help protect children living nearby from the devastating effects of lead poisoning.
Lead is particularly harmful to infants and children. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, even low levels of lead exposure can damage a child’s brain and nervous system as it develops, slow growth and development, and cause hearing and speech problems.
The Denver Post’s John Aguilar reported Sunday that a recent Colorado State University study that found dangerously elevated lead levels in the blood of children living within a half mile of regional airports in California prompted Santa Clara County to ban the sale of leaded gasoline.
The county likely acted so quickly because the study, conducted by CSU economics professor Sammy Zahran and his team at Mountain Data Group, found the lead levels in the blood of 13,000 children near Reid-Hillview Airport were as bad as what children suffered in Flint, Mich.
Leaded gasoline for cars was banned long ago. Why in 2023, when an alternative lead-free aviation fuel has been invented, would we allow airplanes to rain lead down on homes, schools, playgrounds, and businesses?
Jet engines do not use leaded gasoline, and instead use kerosene-based fuel, making larger airports like DIA, less susceptible to lead contamination. Typically leaded aviation gasoline is used in smaller piston-engine aircraft owned by small businesses, flight schools, and individuals. The Federal Aviation Administration has set a goal of having all aircraft use lead-free aviation fuels by 2030.
Coloradans can’t tolerate seven more years of this harmful pollution.
Centennial Airport is making good strides already with 15% of its market share of gasoline sold being Swift UL94 unleaded fuel. The problem is that not all piston-engine aircraft are certified to safely use alternative fuel. The FAA must require piston aircraft to undergo a certification process more rapidly. Santa Clara County estimated that 68% of piston-powered aircraft can use the FAA-certified 94-octane gas now available at its two airports. Official notice is provided on the FAA’s Notice to Air Missions system that planes flying into Santa Clara airports won’t be able to refuel with leaded gasoline.
Colorado’s airports that serve piston-engine airplanes can help expedite this transition by banning leaded gasoline. We understand this means that some piston-engine airplanes that cannot or whose owners will not get certified to use unleaded gasoline will have to either find alternative creative sources or move their airplane from public airports.
Rarely does such a simple solution exist for a debilitating problem. Once the source of lead exposure is eliminated from a child’s life, their body slowly expels the lead from their system. While some lead does linger for decades in bones, eliminating lead exposure can immediately make a profound difference in the lives of children living near airports in Colorado.
And as we wait for this policy to take hold nationwide, Colorado airports can engage in a public education campaign including Centennial Airport in Englewood, Greeley-Weld County Airport, Pueblo Memorial Airport, Northern Colorado Regional Airport in Fort Collins, Eagle County Regional Airport in Gypsum, and Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport in Broomfield, and Grand Junction Regional Airport. The campaign can encourage people in high-pollution areas to take precautions to minimize their children’s exposure to lead. Small things people can do include not eating fruits and vegetables from outside gardens and also keeping windows and doors closed as much as possible, which may include subsidizing air-conditioning units for low-income neighbors.