Misguided public opinion could end avgas

In my column in the March 23 issue, “”And then there were 10: As oil refineries stop producing avgas, what’s the future hold for us?””, I expressed my opinion of the future of aviation gasoline, noting “”there is concern that once the government starts imposing new regulations, it will go after anything that even sounds bad.””


In my column in the March 23 issue, “”And then there were 10: As oil refineries stop producing avgas, what’s the future hold for us?””, I expressed my opinion of the future of aviation gasoline, noting “”there is concern that once the government starts imposing new regulations, it will go after anything that even sounds bad.””

Then last week I was reading a recent issue of a popular flying magazine. In one of the stories, the writer states: “”Avgas deposits 1.3 million pounds of brain-damaging lead in the atmosphere each year, in case you wondered why you’ve been feeling dumber lately.””

After reading this my first reaction was: “”Oh, darn”” (that wasn’t my first reaction, but the editors will not print what my first reaction really was).

I think the only one that has been affected by lead is the writer of that story.

Tetra-ethyl lead is a known toxin and I recommend strongly that people do not consume leaded avgas if at all possible. However, when leaded avgas is burnt in an engine, the lead is converted to a lead bromide, which is a particulate. These particles drop harmlessly to the ground. Even if you breathe a lot of exhaust fumes from an airplane engine burning leaded avgas ? again not recommended ? you probably will not ingest any lead because the particles are heavier than air.

There are many reports of lead poisoning, especially among small children. But these were cases where homes had been painted with lead-based paint and the children consumed some of the paint chips. About 50 years ago, there was a study done on cab drivers in a major city. They chose cab drivers because they were in the exhaust rich atmosphere most of the time and the cars were all burning leaded fuels. The study compared the lead levels in the blood of the cab drivers to the lead levels of blood from people in Africa that had never seem an automobile. There was no significant difference.

Leaded avgas will not make you dumber if it is handled and used properly. That means you should not lick your hangar floor or drink avgas with dinner.

I still believe that leaded avgas will not be lost because of good scientific facts. It will be lost because of misguided public opinions based on rumors and misinformation.

Ben Visser is an aviation fuels and lubricants expert who spent 33 years with Shell Oil. He has been a private pilot since 1985. You can contact him at Visser@GeneralAviationNews.com.

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