Aviation is largest source of lead emissions in the air and causes over a billion dollars in lost wages due to IQ effects annually, in addition to other damages

Costs of IQ Loss from Leaded Aviation Gasoline Emissions

Philip J. Wolfe*, Amanda Giang, Akshay Ashok, Noelle E. Selin§, and Steven R. H. Barrett

Laboratory for Aviation and the Environment, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 77 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States
Institute for Data, Systems, and Society, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 77 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States
§ Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 77 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States
Environ. Sci. Technol.DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.6b02910, Publication Date (Web): August 05, 2016, Copyright © 2016 American Chemical Society
*Phone: +1-617-253-2727; fax: +1-617-324-0096; e-mail: pwolfe@mit.edu.
Abstract Image

In the United States, general aviation piston-driven aircraft are now the largest source of lead emitted to the atmosphere. Elevated lead concentrations impair children’s IQ and can lead to lower earnings potentials.

This study is the first assessment of the nationwide annual costs of IQ losses from aircraft lead emissions.  Researchers developed a general aviation emissions inventory for the continental United States and modeled its impact on atmospheric concentrations using the community multi-scale air quality model (CMAQ).  They used these concentrations to quantify the impacts of annual aviation lead emissions on the U.S. population using two methods, through:

  • Static estimates of cohort-wide IQ deficits
  • Dynamic economy-wide effects using a computational general equilibrium model

The researchers also examined the sensitivity of these damage estimates to different background lead concentrations, showing the impact of lead controls and regulations on marginal costs.

They found that aircraft-attributable lead contributes to $1.06 billion 2006 USD ($0.01–$11.6) in annual damages from lifetime earnings reductions, and that dynamic economy-wide methods result in damage estimates that are 54% larger. Because the marginal costs of lead are dependent on background concentration, the costs of piston-driven aircraft lead emissions are expected to increase over time as regulations on other emissions sources are tightened.