Reid-Hillview Airport

Rising Concern Over Lead in Exhaust of Small Aircraft Spurs New Calls to Close Reid-Hillview Airport

Reid-Hillview Airport in San Jose.
NBC Bay Area

Saying the health and future of children in nearby neighborhoods is at risk, activists and educators called for the closure of Reid-Hillview Airport in East San Jose as they canvassed the area Saturday.

They plan to continue speaking out during at least three more county meetings and hearings set for the next ten days.

Reid-Hillview Airport serves small, private planes, which produce far more lead pollution than larger commercial aircraft, and is much closer to homes than most airports.

"You have neighborhoods where on the other side of a home's fence there's an airport," said Huascar Castro, associate director of housing and transportation policy for Working Partnerships USA, which collaborated with numerous other organizations leading Saturday's activities.

The county already has begun taking steps to close the airport in 2031, the soonest date allowed under the terms of the airport's current grants from the Federal Aviation Administration.

But the drive has taken on new urgency since the release Aug. 3 of a study sponsored by Santa Clara County and the California Department of Public Health that analyzed 17,000 blood samples taken from local children between 2011 and 2020. Researchers said the children's lead levels compared with those found in children who drank contaminated drinking water in Flint, Michigan, at the height of that city's lead poisoning crisis.

On Saturday, activists canvassing in East San Jose urged residents to participate in community meetings set on Wednesday and Thursday to discuss the study. The county Board of Supervisors also plans to hold a formal hearing about the lead data on AUG. 17.

The Santa Clara County Office of Education released a statement late Friday decrying the levels of lead found in local children's blood and calling on residents to join the upcoming meetings.

"The only effective strategy is to eliminate the sources of the lead exposure," Peter Ortiz, the county Board of Education member who represents the neighborhoods most severely affected, said in that statement. "The decision must be made based upon what is best for our children."

Details about the county's community meetings and how to participate can be found at

Activists and educators said -- and the Federal Aviation Administration agrees, according to a fact sheet on its website -- that no level of lead is safe for children or young adults.

Lead is linked elevated levels of lead in blood with impaired cognitive development, poor academic achievement and many other health risks.

Pollution is especially serious near Reid-Hillview Airport because it serves small aircraft, which typically need the higher octane in a leaded fuel known as "avgas." And emissions from planes that use leaded fuel are not regulated, according to the FAA fact sheet.

In contrast, commercial jets and their fuel are subject to regulation, which has resulted in better engine design and efficiency, the FAA says.

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