The fight continues in Santa Monica, with city officials pressing FAA to let them take back local control of their airport. Mayor McKeown and the City Councilmembers have held many good sessions, allowing citizens to voice their concerns. The availability of documents and videos online has also been impressive, almost a model for other communities to follow. But, the performance of others within the city government has fallen short in some areas. One of these failures has to do with alerting the general public about the health hazards of lead pollution caused by the combustion of leaded aviation fuel.
Lead is a serious neurotoxin, particularly damaging to growing children. The federal government began phasing lead out of paint and automobile fuels in the early 1970s, and by the end of 1995 lead was no longer sold in automobile gas. The same was supposed to happen in aviation. Instead, twenty years later, in 2015 small planes in the U.S. continue to run primarily on 100LL AvGas, the low-lead fuel FAA has failed to clean up.
Not insignificantly, there are even thousands of new small aircraft that have all been manufactured after automotive fuel lead disappeared in 1995. Instead of removing lead from fuel, in the early 1990s, FAA worked hard to foster development of an entire new industry sector: the ‘homebuilt’ or ‘kit’ airplane, such as the Van’s RV models. Most of the new kit planes run on new engines burning the same dangerous fuel: 100LL AvGas. Consequently, aviation today has become the largest source of lead air pollution in the United States.
In 2011, CEH.org took legal action against the leaded AvGas problem at California airports. After three years of legal wrangling, a settlement was struck: a court-enforced Consent Decree in which FBO’s (fixed base operators) selling AvGas at 24 California airports agreed to pay a fine, and the airports also agreed to perform public notifications. They were required to mail printed notices to all residences within one kilometer of the airport, and also required to post 24″ by 24″ signs warning about the lead hazard. The language of both the mailing and the warning signs conforms with California’s Prop 65.
The signage requirements were clearly laid out within the Consent Decree:
Logically, a lead hazard sign would have been placed at the observation deck, as in the picture above, where a dad has taken his two young children. This is a location close to the aircraft operational area, and a location where visitors can learn and make informed decisions.
So, what happened at Santa Monica? It appears that airport officials would not fully cooperate with the parties (CEH.org and the settling fuel dispensers). This meant that, in accordance with paragraph 2.1.1(c) of the Consent Decree, the FBOs were to place the signs on their own leased properties, at the location “…most likely to be seen by the general public.” In this picture, at one of the Santa Monica FBOs, the Prop 65 lead warning is on a fence, deep within the secure portion of the airport — above the ash tray, in the smoking area for the FBO!
Really? Yes. And so, with the city’s website, the city encourages parents to bring their children to the airport, and some city officials (such as the airport director) are careful to protect them from the knowledge of lead exposure. They ensure that the lead impact warning sign is across the field, where visitors will never see it: just above the cigarette butts nobody wants to be near, in an FBO smoking area.
Considering the great fight city officials are waging, trying to deal with an intransigent FAA, trying to regain local control of the airport and serve the local citizens, it really seems like a no-brainer. Mayor McKeown and the other Councilmembers need to issue an order to the airport officials: place lead warning signs at the most impactful location, the observation decks.