A Concord resident has asked the Hanscom Field Advisory Commission if it can take steps to have the environmental impact of lead emissions from aircraft fuel investigated, especially with regard to the many children, schools and daycares in close proximity to the airfield. He also mentioned that many people now work at home because of the pandemic.
“I’m just aghast that there is any lead included in any fuel that is allowed at a civilian airport in the center of multiple residential communities,” Michael Gresty said at the Nov. 17 meeting about the aviation gas (avgas) Massport allows its FBO (Fixed Base Operator) tenants to sell at Hanscom Field. Avgas fuels the thousands of piston-engine aircraft flight operations that take place at the airfield each month.
Thomas Hirsch, HFAC member representing the Hanscom Pilots Association, and Bedford resident, explained that aviation fuel is regulated by certification, so that certain types of aircraft are required to use particular types of fuel. Jet fuel is unleaded, but most of the piston-engine aircraft in use at Hanscom are required to use avgas with some lead in order for the engines to operate properly. Hirsch noted, “Some engines over the years have been certified to run with unleaded auto gas. There’s some controversy about that.”
Gresty persisted, “I still take the position that there’s absolutely no reason that Hanscom should be supplying any fuel with lead in it in a residential community like this when autos, trucks and so on have not been allowed to use gas lead-based fuels since the 1970s. This is having a severe impact potentially for the health of the community. And simply not making that fuel available to the airport would solve the problem.”
Hirsch protested, “Well, it would also eliminate all piston-engine airplanes that are currently at the airport.”
“Great – two birds with one stone!” Gresty commented, referring to the main topic of discussion earlier in the evening during the HFAC meeting: noisy, repetitive practice flights over communities by local flight school aircraft.
According to the Massport flight operations data for 2020 to date, practice flights in small piston-engine aircraft operated by local flight schools make up 29,919 of the total 81,268 flight operations at Hanscom Field so far this year. Pre-pandemic numbers for 2019 were 44,607 practice flights by small piston-engine aircraft out of 128,681 total flight operations by all types of aircraft.
“How can the lives and safety of children be measured against any profits or closing down operations?” Concord resident Irina Mladenova asked Commission members and Massport representatives, mentioning that she has two young children and her family is planning to have their garden soil tested next week. They are also considering a blood test for their three-year-old child.
Another local resident, Rachel Bandi, expressed her concern that leaded avgas emissions from Hanscom Field aircraft could pollute Gaining Ground, a nonprofit organic farm within the historic Thoreau Birthplace Farm near the airfield where “large amounts of food is being planted and grown and eaten.” Gaining Ground’s fresh vegetables and fruit are all donated to hunger relief organizations.
When HFAC members were reminded that Bedford also has community gardens in close proximity to the airfield (just off Hartwell Road, located about a quarter-mile from the airfield, and very nearly under the flight approach for Runway 5/23), HFAC and Bedford Select Board member Emily Mitchell volunteered to check if the Town has any soil lead level data on record for the gardens.
HFAC Chair Christopher Eliot of Lincoln noted that meeting attendee Gary Keller had posted a comment for the meeting claiming up to 75% of general aviation aircraft can use unleaded fuel.
Gresty added, “I think the point here is with the general availability of unleaded fuel, there’s absolutely no reason that Hanscom should provide any leaded fuel. And if pilots don’t like it, they can go somewhere else … Because essentially, they’re raining lead on the surrounding community. That’s what it amounts to. And they’re constantly doing that, in violation of any respect for the community or thought about the environmental impact on children.”
Chair Eliot observed that the issues raised will generate a complicated discussion that he did not want to cut short during this meeting. Instead, he planned to add the issue to the December HFAC agenda for further consideration.
Eliot also asked if information available on the number of gallons of aviation fuel sold each year at Hanscom Field can be provided for the December meeting.
Hirsch suggested Massport can easily provide that information since it collects a fuel flowage fee from the FBO sales and then shares some of that revenue with surrounding towns.
HFAC’s next virtual meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Dec. 15 at 7 p.m. People who would like to participate in that meeting will find the HFAC agendas and Zoom login information on the Hanscom Field Advisory Commission website hosted by the Town of Lincoln at https://www.lincolntown.org/AgendaCenter/Hanscom-Field-Airport-Commission-58. Citizens may also register on the Lincoln website to be added to a list of subscribers who receive advance email notice of HFAC meetings and agendas.