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Superior residents see a California airport as potential model for reducing air pollution

A small white airplane with a propeller sits on a gray runway below a bright blue sky
Scott Franz
A plane sits near the runway at Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport on March 5, 2023. Traffic has increased more than 40% at Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport in the last two years.

Editor's note: This is the third story in a three-part series about air pollution in Northern Colorado and the impacts it is having on residents.

Our series on air pollution has revealed some dramatic examples of how bad air is affecting Coloradans.

In Windsor, a woman with a rare health condition has to cancel dog walks and plans with friends when pollution levels are too high.

In Superior, a chemist is putting his family plans on hold because of concerns about lead pollution from a nearby airport.

What potential solutions are out there?

KUNC Investigative Reporter Scott Franz talked with Morning Edition Host Nikole Robinson Carroll about one potential path forward being raised by Superior residents: ask Colorado airports to switch to unleaded fuel.

In Santa Clara County, California, an airport where researchers first brought up concerns about air pollution from lead-powered planes recently switched to unleaded fuel.

Eric Peterson, airport director for the Reed-Hillview Airport in Santa Clara County, said the change has not had a negative impact on operations.

“I think that the switch has been the right thing to do,” Peterson said. “It has removed lead from the atmosphere specifically around the airport, and I think it's been a good move. I look forward to the larger transition to a higher octane unleaded fuel and I think that that is imminent.”

He said most of the planes that currently run on leaded fuel can easily make the switch to the unleaded version. But it isn't readily available yet across the country.

Residents in Superior are calling on Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport to make a similar switch to unleaded fuel.

Airport Director Paul Anslow said on a recent tour of the facility that he doesn't have the power to regulate the fuel sales at the airport because of regulations from the Federal Aviation Administration.

Still, the Superior Town Board is asking it to make the switch. The board also raised the possibility last week of launching a blood testing program for children in the community to gauge how much lead exposure they might have.

Scott Franz is an Investigative Reporter with KUNC.
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