Airport Addresses Lead Concerns In Latest Commission Meeting

David Creed •

Airport South Apron
The south apron at Nantucket Memorial Airport.

Nantucket Memorial Airport manager Noah Karberg took time during Tuesday’s airport commission meeting to address questions and concerns regarding possible lead contamination from planes and the potential impact on neighboring properties.

Karberg pointed to a 2013 study conducted by the Airport Cooperative Research Program that investigated airport lead impacts. The study sampled a station adjacent to the runway and is what Karberg believes to be “the highest possible lead impact area” at the airport.

The study, which included more than 15 airports, revealed that Nantucket was tied for last with two others with 0.01 microgram per cubic meter of lead – which falls below the .15 standard set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Karberg also reiterated the timing of this study and how it came when small piston engine-powered aircraft favored by the commuter airlines were utilizing the airport far more often than they do today. Nowadays, the airport’s consumers are predominantly aircraft that use unleaded fuel – such as commercial airlines like JetBlue and American Airlines.

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"My additional point that I pulled is our annual air carrier and enplanements from Nantucket to Hyannis,” Karberg said. “This would have been Island Airways, Nantucket Air, Cape Air. This is just my guess as I haven't called and talked to the authors of the study but when the study was conceived, they were probably looking at Nantucket during its heyday when Nantucket was putting nearly 200,000 passengers on how many tens of thousands of Cape Air, AVGAS aircraft to and from them Nantucket.”

“By the time the study took place in 2013 that had been halved,” Karberg continued. “Looking now at 2023, we are down at about 3,000 people going on Cape Air to Hyannis. So that market has dropped. That market doesn't exist in the way it did.”

Karberg’s presentation was prompted after many residents reiterated their stance during the commission’s monthly meeting in March that they would like the project moved to the north side of the airport and away from the existing properties in the vicinity of the proposed expansion. They cited noise and possible air pollution from the fuel exhaust produced by aircraft that operate using leaded fuel, also known as AVGAS.

Commission chair Art Gasbarro said last month in response to the leaded fuel concerns that the fleet mix coming to and from the airport has significantly changed over the years and that almost all of the aircraft utilizing the airport now use unleaded fuel.

Regardless, Gasbarro said the airport would look into the issue, weigh the concerns, and evaluate how to combat the issue if necessary.

"I think we share concerns as well for any kind of environmental protections that can be put in place and really best management practices and that sort of thing within the context of applicable regulation,” Gasbarro said in March. “So I think it is something that we can have a look at and report back on.”

This led to Karberg preparing a presentation for this week's meeting where he also brought up a more recent study conducted by Yanofsky & Cohen in 2022 that analyzed the 100 top lead-emitting airports in the United States, which did not have Nantucket on their list.

"The author's analyzed the top 100 lead-emitting airports in the U.S.,” Karberg said. “Nantucket is not on the list. We are not a top 100 lead-emitting airport in the United States.”

Karberg said the statewide prevalence for elevated blood lead is 13.4 children out of every 1,000 having lead levels above 0.5 micrograms per deciliter, which puts Nantucket below the average.

“Nantucket as a whole community is 11 (children) – so Nantucket is below the state average,” Karberg said. “Nantucket is not classified as a high-risk community and the states made that determination based on sampling 50 percent of the Nantucket children aged nine to 47 months.”

Karberg ended his presentation reiterating he is a member of the community, is at the airport 40-50 hours per week, and lives just three quarters of a mile away from the airport. He said he is impacted at his home by approximately 10,000 aircraft made up mostly of small general aviation aircraft 300 feet overhead.

"Whatever emissions they are releasing are over my house and my yard where my children play in the dirt or my wife gardens,” he said. Karberg then displayed a picture of his three-year-old son who he says enjoys going to the airport, looking at planes, takes tours through the ramp, climbs on the fire trucks, etc. He shared his son’s blood level with the Zoom, which is normal.

“I share the concern about lead with the community, but I am a community member here too,” Karberg said. “I am within a mile of the airport. If there was something here that led me to believe I needed to make change in how the airport operated, I would do this. But based off the information I have available, the data present, data I found, I don’t see a reason for any change to our business status quo or general concerns or activity.”

Meri Lepore, a neighbor of the airport who also has young children, asked questions ranging from clarification on the uptick in fuel sales and whether that fuel is leaded and whether the time of year for testing lead levels is a factor. Karberg said that the tests in 2013 were done throughout the year.

“I'm personally going to try and have my children checked in August and September because I do think that that might play a part. I'm hoping that their levels are low. This, along with PFAS, are grave concerns for me for their long-term health. I'm hoping that they haven't been poisoned a different way by the airport but I won't know.”

Island resident Doug Kepple, another neighbor of the airport, read from an October 18, 2023 document where the EPA reported a final determination "that lead emissions from aircraft contribute to noise pollution" and that "lead emissions from aircraft are an important and urgent public health issue." Karberg said he was familiar with the document, cited the information he presented pertaining to Nantucket and how their lead levels observed, and added that they did not require any rule making coming out of that determination.

The airport also provided a brief update on the much-discussed noise barrier that is to be built as part of the south apron expansion project and that they are continuing to evaluate what material will be used and how far the wall will stretch. Originally, the airport was preparing to build a 15-foot noise berm to help keep noise to a minimum amongst its neighbors. However after dozens of community members voiced their displeasure with the idea publicly, the airport decided to build a small wall instead that will have existing trees and vegetation separating neighboring properties and the wall.

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