From Melbourne Florida Today:

Nearly 1,600 children age 5 and younger live close enough to an airport in Brevard County to be at risk from leaded gasoline used by small piston planes and helicopters.

With the release of a new study from Duke University and other research identifying 1 kilometer, about 0.6 miles, as a significant threshold for health risks from lead, FLORIDA TODAY examined local data to gauge the potential lead threat to Space Coast residents. The threat is especially dangerous for young children, who suffer most from exposure to lead.

The newspaper analysis of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Census and Brevard County housing numbers found:

  • About 13,480 homes and 25 schools, including eight elementary schools and seven day care centers are within the at-risk zone of an airport, heliport or private airstrip. Given Brevard’s average of 2.4 residents per household, an estimated 32,350 people live within that threshold distance.
  • Brevard’s 20 aviation facilities emitted 1.3 tons of lead in 2008, the most recent data available. Forty percent, or 1,043 pounds, came from Melbourne International, ranking it 52nd highest for lead emissions among the nation’s 20,000 aviation facilities.
  • 3,500 homes, or about 8,400 people, are within that threshold of Melbourne International Airport.”I’m concerned about it,” said Andrea Cattaneo, a mother of two whose home on Bridle Path in Hacienda Estates is less than a half-mile from Melbourne International. “You get that black dust. I’m constantly washing off my back porch.”

To protect her sons, Nicholas, 6, and Jack, 9, she makes sure to change out her air-conditioning filter regularly to capture any air pollutants from planes. But she still worries how lead and other air pollution might affect her family, especially as the airport expands.

“It’s really in those early years that lead can make an impact on children’s intelligence levels,” said Rebecca Anthopolos, a statistical analyst at Duke who co-authored the study on lead exposure from leaded aviation gasoline published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives. The researchers found lead-blood levels increase significantly in children who live near an airport.

No level of lead exposure is accepted as safe, according to the EPA, and the agency has found serious health effects at much lower levels in blood than previously thought. The agency is considering a phase-out of lead from general aviation gasoline, called avgas, but has set no timeline.

In May, Friends of the Earth, a California-based environmental group, notified the EPA it plans to sue the agency to force a timeline.

But industry officials say there is no viable substitute for lead as an octane booster. Forcing more expensive alternative fuels too soon could batter a $150 billion industry already in a tailspin from the recession, they say, as well as create safety concerns.

“Engines could literally disintegrate on you,” said Glenn Vera, director of Florida Institute of Technology aviation, which has 54 planes at Melbourne International Airport.

Conservation groups counter that industry and the EPA have delayed for decades and must commit to deadlines for a phaseout. They list Melbourne International among 32 airports nationwide — 13 of them in Florida — that are the worst lead offenders because of high general aviation traffic and proximity to homes, schools and low-income areas.

More.

Image by Boltron.

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