SAN JOSE (KPIX) – A new report found children in who live near Reid-Hillview Airport in East San Jose are being exposed to dangerous levels of lead.
“We literally have a crisis on our hands,” said Supervisor Cindy Chavez who represents District 2.
Supervisor Chavez says the scientific study by the Mountain Data Group analyzed 17,000 blood samples from children living near Reid Hillview Airport between 2011 and 2020. It found results comparable to the 2014 Flint Water Crisis.
“At the height of the Flint water crisis, children’s blood lead levels were between 2 and 3 micrograms per deciliter of lead. That was for a year and a half. We’re at about 2 micrograms per deciliter, ongoing, every day, no relief,” Chavez said.
The lead is reportedly coming from Reid Hillview Airport’s piston engine airplanes that still use leaded gasoline for fuel, even though it was outlawed for cars decades ago. The lead rains down on the community through droplets of unburned fuel and exhaust.
“The most important complication of lead poisoning is problems on the brain, brain development. And we know from study after study that there is just no safe level of lead,” said Dr. Stephen Harris, a San Jose Pediatrician.
Neighborhood groups trying to close the airport say the danger is confirmed.
“We’re breathing it in, it’s going on the dirt, when we walk on the dirt, we’re tracking into our homes,” said Maricela Lechuga, an airport neighbor and member of the Santa Clara County Airports Commission.
Pilots at Reid Hillview say the industry is moving quickly to phase out leaded fuels for light aircraft.
“In about two weeks, we will see unleaded fuel here at Reid Hillview Airport. For about 90 percent of the fleet, we can use unleaded fuel which is good because we don’t like lead either,” said Walt Gyger, a pilot and owner of Tradewinds Aviation.
But is it too late? the report is likely to have an impact on the long-term plan to close the airport.
“What’s the call to action to the FAA and the EPA? What’s the action to be taken to protect people right now,” Chavez said.
The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors will hold virtual public hearings on August 11 and 12 to discuss the lead study with neighbors and airport supporters.
Supervisors will discuss the study’s findings in a separate meeting on August 17, which could determine whether the county will take further action.
The Board voted in November 2020 to begin a process of phasing out Reid Hillview airport, but the soonest it could close would be 2031.