Lead in aviation fuel could prove to be a threat to the younger generation

Need for policy efforts to limit aviation lead emissions to safeguard welfare of at-risk children stressed.

The impact of high blood lead levels in children are manifold. It causes permanent IQ loss, behavioral problems, and numerous other socio-economic problems in the long run. A recent study published in the PNAS Nexus raises concern over the presence of higher lead levels in the blood of children living near a California airport.

Each year, around 170,000 small airplanes burn leaded fuel at 13,000 regional airports in the US. Aviation gasoline, being the largest source of airborne lead pollution in the country, lead ends up being absorbed into the bloodstreams of an estimated 5 million people living near airports including more than 363,000 children.

Lead poisoned or killed thousands of American children and adults in the 20th century, but the US is still struggling to put an end to this man-made modern disaster. The Clean Air Act of 1970 was proclaimed as the most effective of the policies to phase-out of tetraethyl lead from automotive gasoline, but practically it could not stop leaded gasoline being used by the aviation industry.

Schools directly exposed to lead threat

Currently, two-thirds of lead emissions in the United States is from aviation gasoline. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, apart from the millions of people residing within half a mile of an airport servicing piston-engine planes, around 600 elementary or secondary schools are also directly exposed to the threat of this lethal neurotoxin.

Researchers found that the blood lead levels of children residing within a half mile of the airport are more badly affected by the increase in piston-engine aircraft traffic.

Limit aviation lead emissions, save kids

The blood lead levels of children under six years of age, who lived near Reid-Hillview Airport in Santa Clara County, California were analysed over a 10-year period (from 2011 to 2020). The probability that a child living near the airport had a blood lead level that exceeded the California Department of Public Health-defined threshold of 4.5 micrograms per deciliter increased the closer the child lived to the airport.

For children living a mile or more away from the airport, the probability of a blood sample that exceeded the threshold was 21.4% lower than for children living within a half mile of the airport. The lead author Sammy Zahran says that the study reiterates the need for policy efforts to limit aviation lead-emissions to safeguard the welfare of at-risk children.

Sanjeev Ramachandran

A journalist with 23 years of experience, Sanjeev has worked with reputed media houses such as Business Standard, The Ne More »

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