America is being doused every minute of every day with the toxic heavy metal lead as it is burned in “avgas” — aviation gas, the fuel that powers most piston-driven aircraft (i.e. anything with a propeller). A grand total of 571 tons of lead are dumped each year into the air over our heads from aircraft alone, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (1)
According to a scientific paper titled, “Lead and Halogen Contamination from Aviation Fuel Additives at Brackett Airfield,” (2) X-Ray Fluorescence instrumentation was used to analyze lead, chlorine and bromine content in avgas liquids. The tests showed avgas contains the following:
Lead: 48 ppm
Bromine: 42.6 ppm
Chlorine: 605.2 ppm
Lead is a highly toxic heavy metals that causes bone diseases, brain damage and cancer. Chlorine is a highly-reactive chemical with powerful oxidative properties. The fact that both are being sprayed daily into the air above America is inexcusable.
964 tons of lead released into the air (from all sources)
How much lead is being “chemtrailed” across America due to aviation fuel? According to General Aviation News (3), about 681,000 gallons of avgas were burned each day in 2013.
Avgas weighs approximately 6 lbs per gallon, meaning over 4 million pounds of avgas is burned each day, or over 1.8 million kg of avgas.
If lead is 48 ppm in avgas, that means each kg of avgas contains 48 mg of lead. Multiplied by the 1.8 million kg of avgas burned each day, this means avgas fuel is emitting 86.4 kg of lead PER DAY in the skies over our heads. Over a year, that’s 31,536 kg of lead dumped directly into our air, and that lead falls onto our farming soils, forests, lakes, rivers, streams, oceans, children’s playgrounds, cattle ranches, and so on.
The National Emissions Inventory says that lead emissions are even higher than what I’ve calculated here. “Piston-engine aircraft are the chief source of lead emissions in the United States, emitting 57% of the 964 tons of lead put into the air in 2008, according to the most recent figures from the National Emissions Inventory,” reports the NIH. (4)
Small aircraft pilots dismiss the problem
Some pilots seem inclined to dismiss this problem entirely. “I’m hooked on lead. Maybe not in the way a junkie is addicted to drugs, but hooked nonetheless,” writes Air & Space Magazine columnist David Freed, a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist. (5) “The tetraethyl lead added to aviation fuel helps keep the engine of my four-seat, 48-year-old Piper Cherokee running smoothly. And that keeps me happy.”
He goes on to lament the idea that cleaner lead-free fuels might make him unable to afford to fly: “We live in dread of fuel costs continuing to rise and of FAA airworthiness directives, which often require us to pay for expensive, usually safety-related modifications. Will a government-mandated switch to unleaded fuel ultimately break the bank, leaving us little recourse but to quit flying and sell our airplanes…?”
Later in his article, he does acknowledge that lead is a public health hazard, but he explains that his airplane contributes virtually nothing to the problem: “But is the exhaust from my airplane’s 180-horsepower engine really that significant a national health threat…?” he asks. He’s right that his one airplane isn’t much of a factor in all this, but in a collective sense, if you combine all the piston-driven aircraft flown by pilots like Freed, it becomes a huge issue nationwide. Avgas emissions are the number one source of lead emissions into the skies of America.
(David Freed, by the way, is the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of the Cordell Logan aviation mystery novels. He’s a great writer and obviously a thoughtful, intelligent person… almost certainly a likeable guy and a valuable contributor to society in many ways as an investigative journalist. For example, he authored an 8,600-word expose in The Atlantic which detailed how “the FBI pursued the wrong suspect in a string of anthrax murders following 9/11.” Obviously, this is the kind of investigative journalist we like to support in the mainstream media — people who ask real questions and search for truth. So to be clear, I’m not attacking him in a personal sense over his article; I only hope he reconsiders the importance of the aviation industry getting the lead out of its fuels and thereby out of our skies. We need thoughtful, intelligent people on the leading edge of this issue if we ever hope to have lead-free avgas become a reality.)
As the following EPA chart shows, avgas is the No. 1 source of lead emissions, followed by “industry” in the No. 2 spot, then coal-fired power plants third (“electric generation”).