Lead spews from some Southern California airports; cleaner fuel is coming

Airports in Long Beach, Van Nuys, Santa Ana and Chino for now remain high on the EPA's list for worrisome emissions from leaded gas.

Children call for the shutdown of Whiteman Airport

Both of Lori Shepler’s 5-year-old twins have had serious health problems throughout their young lives. She keeps a particularly close watch on Ayla, who’s in remission from cancer that cost her a kidney and regularly deals with respiratory issues.

So when the twins started attending Carver Elementary School — which is blocks from a runway at Long Beach Airport, with a steady stream of small planes flying overhead every few minutes — Shepler started researching the health effects of airport emissions.

She discovered lots of not great news, with studies showing higher instances of everything from asthma to heart disease to preterm births for those who live and work near airports. But one fact she found stopped her in her tracks.

Shepler learned that, while leaded gas has been fully banned in automobiles due to health concerns since 1996, it’s still widely used by many small planes and helicopters. And out of more than 20,000 airports nationwide, data from the Environmental Protection Agency shows Long Beach Airport ranks No. 2 in country for lead pollution, with planes there emitting nearly 1,600 pounds of lead each year into neighborhoods like the one where Shepler’s twins attend school.

“I was shocked at what I found and how there are no residents, no activist groups and no legislators speaking out about this serious issue in Long Beach,” Shepler said.

Three more airports in Southern California News Group’s footprint made the EPA’s list of top 25 lead polluters: Van Nuys Airport, John Wayne Airport and Chino Airport. Another three made the top 100, including airports in Torrance, Riverside and Murrieta.

While regulators haven’t yet declared lead emissions from airports at these levels dangerous, medical experts have agreed for years that there is no such thing as “safe” lead exposure. High doses can cause seizures or death. In kids, even traces of lead in the blood have been linked in study after study to irreversible developmental problems, including lower IQs and attention disorders.

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Associated Program: Shutdown Whiteman Airport