San Jose’s Reid-Hillview Airport draws congressional attention to leaded aviation fuel

WASHINGTON — San Jose’s Reid-Hillview Airport came under scrutiny Thursday as Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez testified before a congressional subcommittee considering a nationwide fuel ban leaded aircraft.

Chavez, who represents District 2 on the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, appeared before Rep. Ro Khanna, who represents parts of Santa Clara and Alameda counties and chairs the House Committee on Oversight and Environmental Reform Sub-Committee.

The subcommittee heard testimony about the harmful effects of lead in the air on communities near general aviation airports due to the use of leaded fuel.

Chavez testified that Santa Clara County’s decision last August to ban the sale of leaded fuel at Reid-Hillview Airport in east San Jose did not hamper airport operations or have security issues since its implementation at the beginning of the year.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren, who represents most of the city of San Jose, including Reid-Hillview Airport, expressed concern that the Federal Aviation Administration and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency were not taking steps to protect children and residents near airports from the effects of leaded fuel use.

Chavez cited a lack of federal action as the reason for Santa Clara County’s recent ban.

“Santa Clara County had no choice but to act on its own,” Chavez said.

The subcommittee is considering a nationwide ban on leaded aviation fuel after what officials described as decades of inaction and delay on the issue. EPA and FAA officials were not present at the hearing.

“I’m outraged, honestly, that the EPA and FAA are refusing to come and testify before you,” Lofgren said. “It is shocking and unacceptable that the administration refuses to engage with this serious health issue and I hope this hearing will help further the cause of saving children from the scourge of lead poisoning.”

Lofgren, while serving as Santa Clara County Supervisor, called for the closure of Reid-Hillview Airport in the 1980s, but the measure was defeated.

Chavez and Santa Clara County Airport Commissioner Maricela Lechuga, who lives five blocks from the airport, said a study commissioned by Santa Clara County found that children living less than 1.5 miles from the airport had high blood lead levels due to air pollution from planes.

The area includes 21 schools and day care centres, as well as housing approximately 52,000 residents.

The two San Jose residents said blood lead levels were higher than those measured in Flint, Michigan during the city’s lead water crisis.

Representative Rashida Tlaib, who represents Michigan’s 13th congressional district, expressed concern that the country is going through a lead crisis, with action needed to protect people from lead exposure.

“When planes from these airports fly over our communities, they pepper our neighborhoods with lead-poisoned air,” Tlaib said.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization and the EPA agree that there is no safe level of lead in children’s blood.

Lead poisoning in children can damage the brain and nervous system, slow growth and development, lead to learning and behavior problems, and cause hearing and speech problems, the CDC said.

“Families and teachers shouldn’t have to wonder if lead exposure is responsible for a child’s learning or behavior problems,” Lechuga said.

Dr. Bruce Lanphear, a professor of health sciences at Simon Fraser University in Canada, testified that significant drops in IQ occur in children, even with low-level lead exposure. In addition, the risk of chronic heart disease, the most common cause of death, increases for people exposed to lead.

Lechuga cited the makeup of the neighborhood surrounding Reid-Hillview Airport, which is largely Latino and immigrant, as representative of most neighborhoods surrounding general aviation airports across the country, which are disproportionately made up of residents at low income and people of color.

Chavez agreed that the issue of banning leaded aviation fuel is a matter of environmental justice.

“Our children are just as dignified as children living in more affluent neighborhoods,” Lechuga said.

George Braly, the managing director of General Aviation Modifications Inc., and Chris D’Acosta, the managing director of Swift Fuels, both testified that their companies had developed unleaded aviation fuels but faced formalities administration from the FAA.
Braly testified that the FAA did not approve his company’s development, despite the product meeting all of the agency’s requirements.

D’Acosta said Swift Fuels was also involved in supplying unleaded fuel to Reid-Hillview Airport following Santa Clara County’s ban on selling leaded aviation fuel this year.

Lechuga also cited other concerns of the neighborhood near the airport in east San Jose, such as a lack of trees due to the need for open fields for nearby pilots.

The neighborhood also experienced power outages and a shelter-in-place order last Friday after a plane crash near the airport knocked out power lines and a utility pole. The pilot was seriously injured, San Jose police reported.

Comments are closed.