Colorado Study Finds Slightly Elevated Lead Levels In Children Near Airports, Still Below CDC Threshold


A 10-year study by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) showed slightly elevated lead levels in children living near airports, though these levels remained below the Center for Disease Control’s blood lead threshold.

Conducted from 2011 to 2021, the study examined 12 regional and county airports across Colorado including Glenwood Springs Airport, Centennial Airport and Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport, among others. Researchers indicated that the average lead levels from these airport communities likely reflect those near other Colorado airports using leaded fuel. They also found that blood lead levels beyond 2 miles from a regional airport were close to or below the average reported in children across the state.

“While the study confirms that the risk of lead exposure from general aviation airports is extremely small, America’s aviation industry remains committed to transitioning to unleaded fuel as soon as one is developed, approved, and made commercially available,” the Colorado Aviation Business Association (CABA) stated in an article from KDVR.

However, despite the low risk, communities across the state continue to voice concerns over lead exposure near airports. Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport (KBJC) is at the forefront of lawsuits filed by hundreds of nearby residents, in addition to the town of Superior and Boulder County, claiming the airport is threatening the health, safety and welfare of communities.  

According to data from AirNav, Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport is the third busiest in the state with an average of 772 operations per day. To address community concerns, the airport has implemented a noise abatement program and announced plans to transition to unleaded fuel within four years.

The CDPHE plans to publish the study in an academic journal in the near future.

Amelia Walsh
Amelia Walsh is a private pilot who enjoys flying her family’s Columbia 350. She is based in Colorado and loves all things outdoors including skiing, hiking, and camping.


  1. I wonder if they controlled for lead based paints which may be more prevalent in the lower rent areas such as where an airport may be situated or ground contamination from prior leaded car gasoline/emissions, also which may be greater in an airport environment. Probably not.

    • You are on the money except for the “lower rent areas” comment.
      Local private pilots delved into this seeking scientific facts and found this report was buried and hidden from view until requested by a Freedom of Information request. The report states there is an elevated lead level IN ONE SPOT, AN OLD HOUSE with a documented lead problem. And, as you mentioned, there is heavy concentration of highway traffic around the airport.
      Still, that doesn’t deter the local effort close Rocky Mountain Metropolitan. According to the locals, that and touch and go operations are a noise problem. Let’s ignore the jet traffic.

  2. “… lower rent areas such as where an airport may be situated … “

    I believe you don’t get those nice views anywhere in the greater Denver area for anyone’s idea of low rents.

  3. Local Airport also had lead levels higher around the airport. Turned out the houses tested has years of lead paint chips in the soil and a racetrack for 30 years ran leaded fuel at 3x the RPM of an airplane. Let’s blame the airport.

    Seems like Avweb is digging for examples to accelerate a move to 100UL. The other story about the gal in California concerned about airport lead was another.

    Poor people generally live around airports due to lower cost of housing because of noise. And many have not invested in lead abatement like more prosperous neighborhoods. In California when you remodel a house lead testing & abatement is required. Poor people ar not renovating or renovating with permits like those better off.

    Causation verses corrolation.

  4. “Seems like Avweb is digging for examples to accelerate a move to 100UL. The other story about the gal in California concerned about airport lead was another.”

    As if any such move could ever be accellerated by media exposure… 50+ years wasn’t enough to get this idiocy solved, our speed is truly glacial in this matter. Accusing AVweb of biased reporting on this topic is cheap, at best.

  5. You notice how it’s always “the kids in the area have tested for elevated lead levels” but for some reason, the people working at the airport for years and around the aircraft never seem to have elevated lead levels. I have been around aviation all my life, and my job requires I am tested for lead every two years and for some miraculous reason, I have never tested positive. No one I know has tested positive, even though we are on a very busy airport every day.

    • Reason is that kids absorb more lead than adults, and it can slow them down mentally.
      Been known about for years, and led to the lead ban in car fuel / paints.
      Adults sniffing fumes more likely to have various cancers than rest of population, not so much lead problems.

  6. … lower rent areas such as where an airport may be situated …”

    Yeah ok– brilliant statement ..

    My family lives in Broomfield Colorado, suburb of Denver —

    I’d love to see those ” low rent ” prices..

  7. Amelia, the statement “Center for Disease Control’s blood lead threshold” could use some detail, which might have been edited out. The question is, what is the nature of the threshold? Above it kids experience learning difficulties, paralysis, or what? Given the state’s mining history, it’s no surprise Coloradans are on a hair trigger regarding metallic pollutants. Aviation is a convenient target, if not a real threat.

  8. I wonder if the great little mountain town of Leadville, Colorado, founded in 1877, (located 69 nm from Rocky Mountain Metro Airport) was named after all that lead spewing from piston aircraft…

  9. Colorado Study Finds Highly Elevated THC Levels In Children Near Airports, and Everywhere Else

  10. Health and environmental concerns aside no one seems to talk about the fact that TEL, tetraethyl lead, the lead used in 100LL, is manufactured by only one company. What happens when TEL is no longer financially viable to produce? It is banned in almost every country on the planet. Assuming the health concerns are next to zero, we need a replacement for 100LL.

    • We’ve been in this situation for decades. The FAA has managed to blow up every attempt for a replacement except Swift and GAMI (which they’ve simply left in a box). Because of the decline of GA ever since 1980, when auto innovation took off and Piston aviation innovation virtually ceased, the resulting lack of volume makes everything problematic, expensive, and legally risky. Congress needs to go through the FAA like a wrecking ball.

  11. CO was the leading … lead mining state. Literally. Even a town named “Leadville”. So, there’s that.

  12. Lead is bad for people and engines;
    Quibbling over the details is nonsensical.
    The fact that unleaded fuel is not yet widely available is embarrassing.
    The footdragging by the aviation community, a supposedly advanced group, is embarrassing!

    • Really? Who, exactly, dragging their feet in the aviation community, Mr. Hope (If that indeed is your real name?)? If you mean the FAA, then I’m with you. Otherwise, who?

      Also, what’s your agenda? I’m pretty sure you’ve posted pretty much the same thing before. Is it safe to assume you do not have a plane that doesn’t require 100 octane?

  13. I’ll bet the study, if they ever publish it, is full of holes. Likely, the actual data will not be available to anyone outside academia, government, and the environmental movement.
    At best, it will be “defensible”.

    • The study, by their own admission, is full of holes. The limitations outnumber their finings.

  14. Amelia’s reference to a CDC lead “threshold” is misleading as the agency states clearly NO level of lead is safe. Perhaps she refers to the blood lead reference value (BLRV) which is the value of lead in the blood below which 97.5% of children nationwide experience. This is the level at which concern should lead to action to diminish or eliminate the source of lead. The idea there is a “positive” or “negative” test for lead is mistaken.

  15. Leaded fuel should have been gone decades ago. We have kicked this can down the entire highway system more than once. We can do it or it can be done for us in ways we won’t like.