We are all aware of the controversial airport that sits behind a fenced area in the southeast corner of Santa Monica. We have heard of the noise problems, the safety problems and the pollution. We know we were promised a great park. What most have not heard much, if anything about, is the lead. The same lead that has been banned in auto gasoline, paint and toys is used in aviation fuel. The leaded fuel is burned by most of the small planes that take off and buzz around over neighborhoods. The lead comes out in the exhaust and falls on people, homes, and schools below; it drops like lead at the rate of two grams per gallon. The city need not sell aviation fuel. Storing and supplying fuel is not our responsibility and it is definitely not a sustainable business.
What most do not know is the city owns six underground tanks, three of which are 36 years old. That’s old for an underground tank; old even when not in earthquake county. The tanks sit above our aquifer; the same aquifer that has already been fouled in the past by Douglas Aircraft and leaking tanks from gas stations in years gone by. The same aquifer that supplies drinking water. Sure, the tanks are periodically checked, but accidents and failures happen.
The city is voluntarily storing and selling a known toxin. Lead has been proven to be unsafe at any level. It has been found in the blood of children around a similar airport, Reid Hillview, in San Jose, CA, at the same levels found in the children of Flint Michigan. A recent air quality study found elevated lead levels in the air around our airport and declared the airport to be the only source of airborne lead in the area.
Last November 2021 Council Members Brock and de la Torre proposed the city staff divest from the storage and sale of leaded fuel and the council unanimously agreed. Our Airport Commission also agreed. Even though we are not required to do so, the city staff has recently undertaken a project to sell unleaded fuel from one of our tanks, but our staff has not charted a known course of action to stop the sale or storage of lead in the second and older 12,000-gallon tank. The City Attorney claims shutting out of the second tank might cause a problem in the future with the FAA or the aviators. Yet we know that in the real and now present that lead is coming out of Santa Monica Airport, exposure to lead reduces the IQ in children, and its effects are permanent. Lead is a clear and present danger. We know the tanks sit above our aquifer. Lead is the elephant in the room and in our tanks, and that elephant must be shown the door. Santa Monica does not have to participate in this dirty business that should have ended decades ago as it was with cars, paints and toys.
Pilots and aviation businesses alike claim they too would like to get the lead out of aviation fuel. Yet while leaded fuel is available, they continue to use it. We know lead is bad. Even a little lead is bad. No lead is good. Not in our water, our air, our soil or our bodies.
No one is putting a gun to anyone’s head to sell and store leaded fuel at Santa Monica Airport.
It’s not green, it’s not sustainable, and it’s not defensible. In fact, after being asked for a clear explanation as to why we cannot get out of the fuel business we were not shown a convincing answer. We are talking lead, not bacon wrapped hot dogs on the pier. You cannot refuse or hide from airborne lead. Aviation fuel is the serious stuff of industry. Toxic to living things.
Our FAA obligations do not allow the city to ban the total use or sale of leaded fuel at the airport, but in no place do they clearly state the city must provide tanks or the city must sell fuel. It is time to retire our old tanks and get out of the leaded fuel business. It makes sense to get out of the aviation fuel business altogether. If an aviation business wants to bring in their own newer safe and up to code tanks, then let them bear the costs, as well as the responsibility for the harm they are causing to those on the ground.
There comes a time to stand up for what is clearly right and reject what is not. It is wrong for a responsible and sustainable city to support and participate in the sale and storage of lead and any toxic fuels. There is no safe level of lead in our water or our air.
We have an obligation to keep the airport open until 2029. We have no obligation to store and sell fuel until then.
Please get out of the fuel business. Do it for the kids.
Alan Levenson, Santa Monica