Cancer charities call for general aviation small planes to stop using leaded fuel
While the kerosene used in the engines of commercial planes, or most private jets, does not contain lead, the AvGas (aviation gasoline) fuel used by the light planes used in “general aviation” – ie. largely hobby flying – does contain tetraethyl lead. There are 134 recreational, general aviation, airfields in the UK. There is the fear that the little piston-engine aircraft using these airfields are emitting lead, which is causing air pollution in the area. Ministers have been urged by cancer charities to follow the US and EU with plans to ban the lead-based fuel, by 2030 and 2025 respectively. The charities (Breast Cancer UK and the Cancer Prevention and Education Society, as well as Green Alliance) say the UK is in danger of “falling behind international standards” because it has left the EU’s system for regulating potentially harmful chemicals, UK REACH. Lead accumulates in the body, and there is no safe level of exposure. It has been banned from use in car fuel since 2000. There may be over 370,000 homes within 4km of general aviation airports, which may have unacceptable levels of lead pollution.
Aeroplane hobbyists putting thousands at risk of cancer thanks to lead-based fuel
Anyone living within four kilometres of UK’s 134 recreational aerodromes could be breathing in harmful emissions
By Tony Diver, WHITEHALL CORRESPONDENT (The Telegraph)
10 January 2023
Aeroplane hobbyists are putting a third of a million households at risk of developing cancer by using fuel containing lead, experts have warned.
Anyone living within four kilometres of 134 recreational aerodromes in the UK could be breathing in emissions that are stored up in their body, causing “irreversible” harm to children and potentially lowering their IQ.
Ministers have been urged to follow the US and EU with plans to ban lead-based fuel, which is used by hobbyist airmen rather than commercial jets.
In a letter to four Cabinet ministers, cancer charities said that the UK is in danger of “falling behind international standards” because it has left the EU’s system for regulating potentially harmful chemicals, UK REACH.
The letter – whose signatories include the chief executives of Breast Cancer UK and the Cancer Prevention and Education Society, as well as the environmental charity, Green Alliance – specifically raises concern about a decision by the UK Health and Safety Executive not to curb the use of tetraethyl lead.
While lead has been banned from use in car fuel since 2000, it is still used in fuel for small piston-engine aircraft.
Emissions may be 14,000 times higher than previously thought
A recent study from the University of Kent found that there are 370,632 residences within 4km of a general aviation airport at risk from exposure to lead emissions, with emissions from leaded aviation fuel potentially 14,000 times higher than previously thought.
The letter says: “Lead is a toxic heavy metal for which there is no safe level of exposure.
“It accumulates in the body, is stored in the skeletal system, causes irreversible and untreatable harm, and is particularly damaging to children.
“Studies show that children’s IQ can be affected by the smallest of doses and environmental exposure has been linked to several cancers.”
The letter points out that “lead emissions from aircraft are highest during take-off and landing, meaning airport workers are likely to receive a particularly high dose”.
“We are therefore greatly concerned that the UK HSE, which implements UK REACH, has ruled out further controls on tetraethyl lead, citing efforts that ‘appear to be underway’ to find substitutes, and adding that ‘additional regulatory pressure is unlikely to speed up this work’.
“Tetraethyl lead in aviation fuel is due to be phased out in the EU from 2025 and the US has a proposal to eliminate leaded aviation fuel by 2030. Given the UK is the last remaining manufacturer of tetraethyl lead globally, we should be in a particularly strong position to drive the search for alternatives.
“This, among other recent regulatory decisions, illustrates a worrying direction of travel. We fear that this is driven by a lack of resource in the HSE rather than a desire for better protections.”
UK ‘risks falling behind international standards’
The letter finishes by saying that the UK “risks falling behind international standards with people and the environment needlessly exposed to toxic substances”.
Zoe Avison from Green Alliance said: “The UK could be leading the way in developing a new cleaner fuel for small aircraft, but instead we’re lagging behind the EU in phasing out this hazardous substance.
“Ministers should be doing all they can to protect the public and to incentivise the market to find solutions.”
A government spokesman said: “The Government and key organisations in the General Aviation sector are considering alternatives to the use of tetraethyl lead in Aviation Gasoline – a blend used by private, light aircraft.
“We are keen to promote the use of unleaded fuels across the sector, and decisions on what is included on the UK REACH list of banned substances are kept under review based on the evidence available.”