Following a peer-reviewed Study that found elevated levels of lead attributable to aircraft activity at Reid-Hillview Airport in children living nearby, the Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to halt the sale of leaded aviation gas at County airports
SANTA CLARA COUNTY, CALIF.— Leaded aviation fuel is no longer available for purchase at Reid-Hillview Airport in East San José and San Martin Airport, and only unleaded fuel will be sold at both airfields. The County Board of Supervisors voted to stop leaded fuel sales in August, following the release of a peer-reviewed study that statistically linked ongoing use of leaded aviation gas with elevated lead exposure for the 13,000 children living near Reid-Hillview Airport
The adverse health effects of lead – particularly in children – are well-known, significant and concerning. The County-commissioned Study found that if leaded emissions (and the related adverse impact on IQ and cognition) ended, children living near the Airport would realize a gain of $11 million to $25 million in lifetime earnings.
“The County made a commitment to end leaded fuel sales at our airports on January 1, and that has been done,” said County Executive Jeffrey V. Smith, M.D., J.D. “We are committed to the health of Santa Clara County residents and that includes taking the necessary steps to protect the communities around County airports from continued aviation lead exposure.”
The move makes the Reid-Hillview and San Martin facilities likely the first airports in the nation to stop carrying 100 octane leaded avgas – commonly known as 100 low lead (100LL) – used by many piston-powered airplanes. Pollution from such aircraft collectively amount to the single largest source of airborne lead emissions in the nation, representing 70 percent of lead released into the environment.
The County-commissioned study on lead exposure risks for children found that leaded aviation fuel contributed to significantly increased blood lead levels for those within a half-mile of the facility. For context, the lead levels during peak hours were double the levels seen during the height of the Flint Water Crisis in Michigan.
Health organizations agree that there is no known safe level of lead in a child’s blood, and exposure to even a small amount of lead has a negative effect on cognitive ability, particularly in developing children who absorb lead more efficiently than older children and adults.
The August vote by County supervisors aimed to immediately take all available actions to prevent continued lead exposure from Reid-Hillview. A petition was also submitted by the County and a nationwide coalition of community groups to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), urging it to take action to eliminate lead pollution from aircraft throughout the United States.
“Children living near these smaller airports, all over the nation, are unconscionably being harmed by leaded fuel,” said Supervisor Cindy Chavez, who represents the area where Reid-Hillview is located. “The County of Santa Clara is doing everything in its power to eliminate this health and equity crisis here at home, as we press for a change at the federal level.”
Nationwide, more than 360,000 children aged 5 or younger live near an airport where piston-engine aircraft operate. Multiple studies have shown that children who live near airports have higher levels of lead in their blood.
“We are thrilled to be a vanguard for the move to unleaded aviation fuel,” said County Board of Supervisors President Mike Wasserman, whose supervisorial district includes San Martin Airport. “The future of general aviation airports will not be tainted by toxic lead fumes, and we look forward to seeing more and more airfields across the nation make the switch to unleaded aviation gas.”
Unleaded aviation fuel has been championed by pilots to address community concerns about atmospheric lead emissions. However, the prohibition of leaded fuel for sale at County facilities does not prevent aircraft that have filled up elsewhere with leaded gasoline from flying into Reid-Hillview and San Martin.
Four airfield operators that provide services to pilots at Reid-Hillview have entered into contracts with the County – effective January 1, 2022 – that restrict fuel sales to unleaded only. A limited amount of leaded fuel that remains in one of the fuel tanks at Reid-Hillview will be used by the flight school aircraft until it is depleted later this month, and it will not be replenished.
The County issued a Notice to Air Missions (NOTAM) in December to ensure pilots nationwide are notified of the change in fuel availability at Reid-Hillview and San Martin Airports. The notification is provided to pilots during their pre-flight planning and will remain in the FAA NOTAM system for the next year.
To use the unleaded fuel, an aircraft must be certified that it can do so safely and will be outfitted with a decal indicating this status. Aircraft that cannot use unleaded gas will need to obtain aviation fuel from other facilities.
The unleaded fuel available at Reid-Hillview and San Martin is 94 octane and is FAA-certified as safe for use in approximately 68% of the piston-powered aircraft of the type that use the Reid-Hillview and San Martin airports. Larger jet aircraft, such as those operating out of Mineta San José International Airport, use a Kerosene-based fuel that does not contain lead.