Lead emissions from aircraft flying in and out of eastern San Jose’s Reed-Hillview Airport are putting thousands of primarily low-income children at higher risk of permanent developmental issues, a new study has found.
The study, which was commissioned last year by the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, analyzed 17,000 blood samples collected in 2011-2020 from children under the age of 18, within a one-and-a-half mile of the airport. lived together. It found that people who lived within half a mile of Reed Hillview had significantly higher levels of lead in their blood than those who lived farther – a difference of about .40 micrograms per deciliter, which is one-tenth of a liter.
According to the study, during the city’s peak water contamination crisis in Flint, Michigan, lead levels ranged from .35 to .45 micrograms per deciliter above normal.
Elected officials and nearby residents, who have long pressed for the airport to close, say the study validates their biggest fear that pollutants from planes that use the airport harm neighborhood residents.
“This very thorough study proves we really have a crisis on our hands,” county supervisor Cindy Chavez, who originally asked for the study, told a news conference. “It’s a public health issue, it’s an environmental justice issue and it’s an equity issue because the people who live around Reed-Hillview are among those who are the least affluent in our community.”
Lead is a neurotoxin that can affect a child’s physical and cognitive development, even at low levels in the blood. Health effects, especially on children up to age 6, may include lower IQ, shorter attention span and academic underperformance. Adults who have fully developed brains have a very low risk of lead poisoning, although pregnant women can pass it on to the developing baby.
At Reed-Hillview, small aircraft flying in and out of the airport run almost exclusively on leaded aviation fuel. Although lead fuel in vehicles was banned long ago by the federal government, the same standard has yet to be set for aviation fuel.
When Reed-Hillview opened in 1939, the 180-acre airport was surrounded by fields and orchards. But in the decades that followed, thousands of homes and about two dozen schools and childcare centers were built almost to the borders of the airport. According to county statistics, the county purchased the airport in 1961, and today more than 52,000 people live within a one-and-a-half mile radius.
As more people moved in and flight operations increased over the years, residents began calling for the airport to be closed, citing lead pollution from the fuel, noise pollution from loud aircraft flying low overhead and Cited a desire to convert valuable land into critically needed housing for the region. .
Gloria Gutierrez-Lechuga, 68, of East San Jose’s Cassel neighborhood, was in tears on Tuesday as she thought about the educational struggles her children would face growing up, fearing that the main risk to her three grandchildren living in the area Can make things even more difficult. .
“I am very disappointed,” she said through a translator. “Why do we have to live with it because we live in a poor area? Our kids haven’t been able to defend themselves and are now only condemned to lead poisoning.”
Reed-Hillview serves as the home of several flight schools and the aviation program of San Jose State University. Proponents of keeping the airport open say it would be a burden for flight students to drive to San Martin Airport and argue that the county may consider other options to address major concerns.
David Goodin, a private pilot and flight instructor who flies from Reed-Hillview, said county officials could tackle the problem by providing only unleaded fuel at the airport. Although unleaded fuel is not yet widely available, some smaller California airports such as San Carlos Airport have begun offering the product to pilots.
“The county may actually choose to choose the unleaded fuel already available to support their constituents and protect the health and safety of people around the airport, but instead they may want to switch it off immediately because it appears That developers are already interested in developing it,” he said. “That politics as always.”
This isn’t the first time dangerous lead emissions have been flagged at the tiny San Jose airport.
A 2008 study by the US Environmental Protection Agency ranked Reed-Hillview 25th out of 3,414 airports nationwide in the amount of lead emitted annually – an estimated 1,279 pounds. And in February 2020, the EPA reported that Reed-Hillview was one of the few US airports where lead emissions exceeded the national ambient air quality standard.
County leaders took their first steps toward closing Reed-Hillview in December 2018, when they voted to stop accepting new federal grants for the airport that would allow them to close it through 2031. He also hired a consultant to study alternative uses for it. Land.
Then in November 2020, county observers voted to explore the possibility of consolidating Reed-Hillview’s aviation with San Martin Airport about 23 miles southeast. San Martín residents have since spoken out against that proposal, accusing the county of trying to dump Reed Hillview’s problems on them.
Chavez defended the move Tuesday, noting that only 2,000 residents live within a one-and-a-half mile radius of San Martín airport, compared to heavily congested areas of eastern San Jose.
“I think one of the other opportunities we have is to learn from this airport and not allow incompatible land uses to be right next to each other,” Chavez said. ‘ That we need to talk with the San Martín community.