EPA Publishes Faulty Data Report on San Carlos Airport Lead Levels

EPA: San Carlos Airport has high levels of lead fuel emissions – SAN CARLOS — A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency study of 17 small airports across the country found that San Carlos Airport had the highest concentration of airborne lead particles, measured at a level that exceeds tough new federal standards. (CalPilots Editor’s Note: Even though the EPA was advised that the findings would be inappropriate due to the run-up area monitor location, they continued to use the faulty monitor location – why?).

The preliminary findings, to be announced Wednesday, are part of an EPA effort to determine whether lead fuel emissions from small aircraft constitute a public health threat. If the agency determines there is a danger, it will look to establish new standards for such emissions. A final determination is expected by 2015.

A monitor at San Carlos Airport measured the concentration of lead at an average of 0.33 micrograms per cubic meter, more than twice the standard of 0.15 micrograms. The only other airport in the study to exceed that standard was McClellan-Palomar Airport, north of San Diego, which averaged 0.17 micrograms.

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District will now analyze the dispersal of emissions at San Carlos Airport to determine what, if any, health impacts might arise from the high concentrations of lead particles. EPA officials say lead pollution drops sharply as emissions travel from their source.

Small piston-engine aircraft are one of the few remaining sources of lead in the environment. Though large commercial aircraft use unleaded jet fuel, many small planes rely on 100-octane, low-lead fuel because their engines require that type of gas to operate.

“This is one of the last remaining legal sources of lead that gets into the air,” Jared Blumenfeld, regional administrator for the EPA, said in a statement. “And we need to understand any potential impacts to human health.”

The Federal Aviation Administration last week announced it was seeking proposals for an unleaded fuel for piston-engine planes. The agency wants to make the switch to unleaded fuel by 2018.

Gretchen Kelly, the manager of San Carlos Airport, said the readings at the facility were high because the monitors were placed where the planes rev their engines to test them right before takeoff. She said she called other airports involved in the study and was told those monitors were placed farther away from where the planes perform their “run-up.”

Kelly said she is not concerned that the emissions from the airport are harmful to people in the surrounding community, noting that other air monitors on the property typically record negligible levels of lead in the air.

We have monitors on the airport that are measuring zero,” Kelly said, “and that’s where people are.”

Kelly said she will gladly sell unleaded fuel the minute it’s approved by the FAA.

The one-year EPA study, which will wrap up in May 2014, was prompted by a lawsuit by environmental group Friends of the Earth. The analysis included Palo Alto Airport and Reid-Hillview Airport in San Jose, neither of which exceeded the threshold. Palo Alto averaged 0.12 micrograms per cubic meter over three months, and Reid-Hillview averaged 0.09.

In 2008, the EPA lowered the acceptable level of atmospheric lead tenfold from 1.5 micrograms per cubic meter to 0.15. The background, or normally occurring, level is 0.02 or 0.03 micrograms, according to the EPA.

Lead exposure can have various health impacts, including disorders of the nervous and immune systems. Children and pregnant women are particularly at risk.

Information from observers at San Carlos Airport:

– EPA placed monitors next to airplane exhausts, and successfully proved leaded aviation gas contains lead

– Those monitors were not in public areas (aka ‘ambient air’)

– All monitors placed in public areas around San Carlos have indicated only normal lead levels, not elevated.

We ask once again, why is the EPA trying to skew the findings?