HFAC Continues its Consideration of Leaded Avgas

Hanscom Field Advisory Commission Chair Christopher Eliot asked during the March 16 HFAC meeting if Massport would be willing to test at least one soil sample near the end of each runway and around engine run-up areas to measure lead levels, since those sites are where research at other airports shows highest soil lead concentrations tend to occur.

Eliot observed that some residents have recently raised concerns about airfield neighborhoods being exposed to contamination from the burning of leaded avgas used by piston-engine aircraft.  During HFAC’s January review of airfield environmental impacts on local air quality, it became apparent that Massport bases its estimate that there is no health risk to airfield neighborhoods on modeling.  It has never actually collected air or soil samples on or near the airfield to measure lead concentrations from leaded avgas fuel emissions.

At that January HFAC meeting, Rep. Ken Gordon expressed an interest in seeking funding through the state’s budget for FY2022 for soil lead testing in airfield neighborhoods near the airfield, saying he believes that individuals should not be required to pay for the testing themselves. (https://www.thebedfordcitizen.org/2021/01/hanscom-field-advisory-commission-investigates-the-trouble-with-leaded-avgas/)

Eliot estimated [based on soil lead analysis fee information HFAC member Margaret Coppe gathered last month] that testing at least one soil sample for lead concentration near the ends of each of the two Hanscom Field runways could be carried out for about $200.

“That would answer some of the neighbors’ questions about what’s the maximum level of lead that might have contaminated the region,” Eliot pointed out.

Mike Vatalaro, Massport Community Relations representative, agreed to relay Eliot’s request to Sharon Williams, Massport airport director for Hanscom Field.

Massport Says it has No Control over the Sale of Leaded Avgas at Hanscom Field

Chair Eliot also asked Massport representatives during the March meeting for answers to two questions that were posed to them during the February HFAC meeting:

  • What is Massport’s plan to replace the leaded avgas fuel at Hanscom Field?
  • Is UL94 a viable option?

The answers to HFAC’s questions?

“Massport has no control over the development or approval of alternative aviation fuels.  If something’s available, then—you know we don’t sell the fuel—the FBO [Fixed Base Operator] would sell the fuel.   So it would be up to them if they want to invest that kind of money for whatever the return might be.  But I think that’s something that’s quite a few years down the road,” said Amber Goodspeed, Massport airport administrative manager for Hanscom Field.

The three FBOs currently selling aviation fuel at Hanscom Field are Signature Flight Support, Jet Aviation, and Rectrix Aviation.

Note:  The vast majority of flight operations at Hanscom Field are those of piston-engine prop planes which use leaded avgas.  There were about 78,700 piston-engine operations fueled by leaded avgas versus around 32,200 jet operations during the pre-pandemic year 2019. Jet fuel is unleaded, but cannot be used for ordinary piston-engine aircraft.

UL94 is a type of unleaded avgas approved for use in many piston-engine aircraft.  It is currently sold at 60 other airports in the U.S., but is not available at Hanscom Field.

1 Comment

  1. HFAC Chair Christopher Eliot seems to mean well, but is asking the wrong Qs of the wrong people. Lead is ages old, not rocket science. Many if not most local hardware store sell simple lead test products which when rubbed on a lead contaminated surface turn red. These test don’t attempt to measure the amount of lead contamination, but they very inexpensively detect the presence of lead which is a start. The $200 estimated cost to test soil from HF, is so low, that the idea of having to ask for a grant ought to be embarassing. Massport ought to accept the responsibility to contract for performance of those tests immediately to set up a data base to track any future changes. If the contamination level is off the charts high, mitigation action should be taken ASAP. There is no safe level of lead.
    If the level is very low, then re-testing may not be required more frequently than every 3-5 years – experts can make the appropriate recommendations.

    Regarding airborn lead from engine exhausts, there should be a local or regional government agency air quality board with responsibilit to monitor and report publicly on air quality just as most locals monitor and report their water quality. It’s the same concern over pollution and mitigation in either case. Is the job being done? If not, why not?

    It is my understanding that low lead or un-leaded AvGas has been available for many years, and has more than one manufacturer. Why it is not approved for use in all piston engines is a Q for engineers. If 10% or fewer hgh performance engines actually need the leaded fuel to prevent engine damage or failures in flight, then it should be banned for all other aircraft within 24 months, and allowed to continue to be sold only for those who apply for a permit to use it based on engineering need. That would cut the use by some 90% – so stop making excuses! As for the fuel resellers = aviation gas stations, they need to be treated exactly the same as our local corner automobile gas stations have been. Make sure those tanks are not leaking, and if prescribed, dig them up, and replace them. No excuses.

    For residents who are concerned about lead in their blood, the easy solution is to tell your MD you want to be tested for lead the next time you go in for any routine medical exam. Most people who are not exposed to lead from their local or municipal water supply, may be pleasantly surprised to find no significant lead in their blood. That would be a relief!

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