EPA to conduct lead study at Santa Monica Airport

February 12, 2009

Beginning this month and continuing through July, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will be taking air and soil samples at Santa Monica Airport and in surrounding neighborhoods to test for ambient lead levels. AOPA has asked the agency to provide the association with its full work plan for the study and to provide information about exactly how the data collected will be used.

In a Feb. 6 letter to the EPA, AOPA noted that a previous study found lead levels at and around the airport to be below federal standards. The letter also noted that while leaded fuel is currently a necessity, the association and industry are working with the federal government to find appropriate alternatives.

The EPA study is intended to create a model for evaluating and projecting lead levels at airports serving piston-powered aircraft burning leaded aviation fuel. A 2005 study conducted by the South Coast Air Quality Management District showed that lead level around the airport was below the national ambient air quality standard for lead.

While the agency says results of this new study will not be used for enforcement purposes at Santa Monica, the information could help the EPA respond to a petition by environmental group Friends of the Earth. As a result of that petition, the EPA in November 2007 published a request for comments to gather additional information about the use of avgas and possible alternatives.

AOPA’s response focused on the efforts already under way to find a replacement for leaded aviation fuel and explained the many challenges associated with that process.

As a member of the Coordinating Research Council (CRC), AOPA is working with petroleum producers; researchers; airframe, engine, and component manufacturers; and others to review and develop alternative fuels that would require minimal modification to existing piston-engine aircraft. AOPA also has been a supporter of the FAA’s aviation fuels test lab at the William J. Hughes Technical Center, which has been searching for a lead-free avgas alternative since the 1990s.