Daily Journal file photo
Following an Environmental Protection Agency study that reported that San Carlos Airport exceeds air quality standards for lead emissions, future airport fuel providers will likely soon offer an unleaded option.
County supervisors will likely require existing and future fuel providers at the San Carlos Airport to sell an unleaded option, a suggestion that follows on the heels of the Environmental Protection Agency’s finding that it exceeds air quality standards for lead emissions.
The plan to reduce lead emissions at the airport and give pilots a different fuel option comes as the county considers a lease for a fuel facility and office spaces at the facility. The airport brought the Board of Supervisors an agreement with Mountain West Aviation but, after the public raised concerns and opposition, officials suggested starting over.
“In a nutshell, staff is recommending we hit the reset button,” said Public Works Director Jim Porter.
The airport could have one provider for both fuel and office space — or two — although Porter said a preference is for one that can do both fueling and services like a flight crew lounge, refreshment center and aircraft detailing.
Porter said the county believed it could not ask for unleaded fuel until the Federal Aviation Administration certifies such an option by 2018 but has since learned it does not need to wait. However, if the county adds the caveat to future providers it must do the same for the existing agreements or jeopardize FAA grants that fund airport improvements, Porter said.
The grants require all vendors to be treated equally.
Although some supervisors said offering unleaded fuel is a smart environment move, Porter said there isn’t much of an existing market. A survey of 400 pilots only netted 75 responses of which 11 indicated they could use unleaded fuel, Porter said.
Using that figure, he estimated the airport could sell 1,500 gallons annually.
But pilot Phil Sih, of Friends of San Carlos Airport, said he has three aircraft of which one can use unleaded fuel immediately.
Other pilots also said the demand for unleaded is greater than what the survey showed.
The impression such fuel is unavailable is mistaken and it is sold at more than 100 airports currently, he said.
Supervisor Carole Groom, who has served six years on the Bay Area Air Quality Management District board, compared the switch away from leaded to the county deciding to stop using herbicides.
Although the FAA has not certified an unleaded option, she said, “we need to be prepared for the future.”
Marcie Keever, legal director of environmental group Friends of the Earth, also pushed the county to be a leader in the state because lead is “extremely toxic even at low doses.”
In June, the group demanded the EPA phase out lead in aviation gas and publicized the agency’s monitoring of 17 general aviation airports in the nation. Of those, the three-month average of San Carlos and McClellan-Palomar Airport in San Diego County had lead levels beyond EPA standards. Palo Alto Airport is only slightly below the threshold.
The EPA chose the county-owned San Carlos Airport for the one-year study because its 2008 lead emissions were estimated at .53 tons per year, according to the agency’s fact sheet on the monitoring program.
Groom said yesterday that the monitors were installed in awkward locations at the airport which played a role in the high results.
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