PNS Daily Newscast - April 22, 2019 

The vigilante accused of holding migrants at border to appear in court today. Also on our Monday rundown: The US Supreme Court takes up including citizenship questions on the next census this week. Plus, Earth Day finds oceans becoming plastic soup.

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Small Planes' Fuel Raises Health Concerns

PHOTO: 167,000 piston-powered general aviation aircraft in the U.S. use leaded aviation fuel. Photo courtesy of AOPA.
PHOTO: 167,000 piston-powered general aviation aircraft in the U.S. use leaded aviation fuel. Photo courtesy of AOPA.
September 27, 2012

SALT LAKE CITY - Salt Lake County is in the nation's top five for its number of aircraft registrations. Most of the general-aviation or piston-driven planes that fly Utah skies still burn leaded fuel, or "avgas."

They got the lead out of automobile gas decades ago, but not so with planes, making them the largest source of lead emissions in the nation.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a Friday deadline to respond in a federal court case, asking the agency to crack down on the use of leaded fuel. Marianne Engleman Lado, a staff attorney for Earthjustice, says the reason for concern is the health effects, particularly on children.

"There are 20,000 airports around the country where lead is still used, and studies have shown that people who live near these airports - their kids are more likely to have heightened blood lead levels."

No alternative is available for leaded avgas, which - according to the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) - has to be used in some engines or they could fail. The AOPA says it wants to help find a solution, but says ultimately it's a decision for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), not just the EPA.

Rob Hackman, AOPA vice president for regulatory affairs, says his group is working with the EPA and FAA to establish a "realistic standard" to reduce lead emissions for general-aviation aircraft.

"It's not just a matter of 'we want fuel with a higher octane so we can go faster.' It's safety of flight so that our engines do not detonate and prematurely tear themselves apart at critical phases of flight."

More than 6,400 aircraft are registered in Utah.

Hackman says - and others agree - that there's no reason for concern when small planes fly overhead. Altitude and wind are thought to disperse the harmful emissions.

"So, unless you're standing right behind an aircraft engine with your nose right at the exhaust, you're talking about something that I think would be even difficult to measure from a bloodstream - that type of thing."

Nonetheless, concern remains about populations near the nation's airports, and Lado anticipates that the EPA eventually will issue an endangerment finding, followed by Clean Air Act regulation of lead in avgas.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - UT