As 2014 drew to an end, a lawsuit against a group of California FBOs and fuel distributors filed three years earlier by the Center for Environmental Health (CEH) over sale of leaded avgas was settled through an agreement preventing what could have resulted in grounding almost all piston-powered aviation in the state.

The suit was filed under California’s Proposition 65, a 1985 ballot initiative requiring businesses and industry to post warnings that exposure to certain chemicals, e.g., the liquefied tetraethyl-lead used in avgas to boost the octane level to 100, could be hazardous to human health. However, the CEH suit was especially punitive, seeking to outright prohibit the sale of leaded avgas within the state and extract millions of dollars in fines from FBOs and avgas distributors plus assess other penalties against them.

Under the settlement signed in mid-December, the affected FBOs will be required to post Prop 65 lead exposure warnings to residents and businesses situated within 1 km of airports hosting the FBOs. The NATA assisted the affected FBOs and other parties, forming a joint defense coalition.

The settlement creates a precedent allowing FBOs selling 100LL avgas in California but unnamed in the CEH suit to opt into the agreement to preempt future suits against them. Prohibiting the sale of 100LL avgas — the only grade of aviation gasoline still produced by refiners — would have effectively grounded the piston-engine fleet of airplanes, helicopters, and aerial application and firefighting aircraft active within the state except for those powered by smaller engines that can legally burn auto gas without ethanol additives.

EPA Testing Air Quality at Airports

In other environmental news, the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is engaged in a national study to update its National Ambient Air Quality (NAAQ) standard, a measurement of air quality in high population-density areas.

Implicit in the current NAAQ standard is that the No. 1 source of lead emissions in the U.S. is general aviation. “They needed more data [to support that contention], so in 2010 they issued a rule requiring measurement of lead in the air near a group of designated airports around the country,” said Walter Desrosier, NATA’s vice president, engineering and maintenance.

In a study now underway, 21 U.S. general aviation airports (six in California alone) were selected based on characteristics that could exacerbate high lead concentrations in the ambient air around the fields, including terrain, location and local climate. Instrumentation to collect and measure local air quality was installed near the airports. (The data collected will also inform the endangerment-factor study necessitated by the Friends of the Earth environmental group’s petition mentioned in the main text of this report.)

“The EPA will eventually issue an NPRM on lead emissions but has not been able to set a date due to federal budget sequestration issues,” Desrosier said. “They have suggested that it would align with the PAFI [Piston Aircraft Fuel Initiative] testing, falling perhaps within the 2018-19 timeframe.” B&CA