Doherty Center for Aviation and Health Research

Faculty Funded Work

Leaded Fuel in General Aviation Operations and Contamination of Soil

Randal J. DeMik, Ph.D., Jerry H. Kavouras, Ph.D., Allison C. Hopkins, and Tyler D. Dean


The researchers will examine how the use of leaded fuel in general aviation flight operations will affect lead contamination in soil. Unlike motor gasoline, aviation gasoline or avgas, achieves higher octane ratings by the addition of tetra-ethyl lead (TEL), a toxic substance that was phased out for automobile use in the United States. The most commonly used aviation fuel (100LL) contains a small amount of TEL, a lead compound that reduces gasoline's tendency to spontaneously explode or "knock" under high loads, high temperatures, and high pressures. Soil samples will be collected from various locations relative to general aviation airports near Chicago, Illinois that may be contaminated by general aviation operations. Soil samples from sites with minimal exposure to general aviation, such as forest preserves, will be controls. Standard methods for lead determination will measure concentrations in the samples, which will then be compared to criteria established by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Results of this study may support research and environmental efforts to remove TEL use from general aviation through the application of alternative fuels.