Battle at Reid-Hillview Airport over CLOSURE
Neighbors cite study citing health hazards
RHV users cite data to contradict
Aviation, specifically airports, is an attractive nuisance. These public utilities are economic engines with substantial direct and indirect societal benefits. On the other hand, the runways are sources of noise and particulate matter. The balance between these public policy is difficult to discern.
The Reid-Hillview Airport faces this controversy with neighbors and the RHV users citing studies to support their preferred outcome. To say the science is complex is a tremendous understatement. The opposing data are in the below articles; so, take a minute to assess and make your own opinion.
In the longer term, it is distressing that “experts” can articulate “facts” which are disputable. Closure of an airport results a loss of an irreplaceable public asset. Resolution of such conflicts portend to be a difficult conundrum.
Study Commissioned by County of Santa Clara Finds Increased Lead Levels in Children Living Near Reid-Hillview Airport
Comprehensive and controlled study reviewed 10 years of data; findings include that blood lead level increases in children downwind from the site are similar to those seen in the Flint, Michigan, Water Crisis
SANTA CLARA COUNTY, CALIF.— A study commissioned by the County of Santa Clara on lead exposure risks for children living in the area around Reid-Hillview Airport in East San José found that the continued use of leaded aviation fuel has contributed to increased blood lead levels, particularly for those within a half-mile of the facility.
The peer-reviewed study found that children living downwind from the airport had higher blood lead levels, with increases of .40 micrograms per deciliter, over children living upwind from the airport. For context, lead levels detected during the peak of the Flint Water Crisis were between .35 and .45 micrograms per deciliter over baseline.
The study also examined levels during times of maximum exposure to air traffic for children within a half-mile of the airport and estimated an increase of .83 micrograms per deciliter at peak times – significantly higher than the levels seen in Flint.
Children who live within a half-mile of the airport had blood lead levels 20% higher than children living between half-mile to 1.5 miles from the airport. The study also correlated blood lead levels with the proximity of a child’s home and school to Reid-Hillview Airport. Children who commute toward Reid-Hillview to attend school present substantially higher blood lead levels than children who commute away from the airport.
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 study was conducted by Dr. Sammy Zahran and the Mountain Data Group. It incorporated three main tests of exposure risk and was controlled for other sources of lead exposure.
The study is available online. The County will hold two Zoom community meetings next week – one for neighborhoods surrounding Reid-Hillview, a second for South County residents near San Martin Airport – to present the findings of the study and receive questions.
County of Santa Clara Files Petition Urging EPA to Initiate Nationwide Ban of Leaded Aviation Gasoline
On August 24, 2021, the County of Santa Clara, together with a nationwide coalition of community groups represented by Earthjustice, filed a petition urging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to initiate a nationwide ban of leaded aviation gasoline.
In addition to site closure, actions approved by the Board of Supervisors include:
- Petition the Environmental Protection Agency to make a finding that lead emissions from general aviation aircraft endanger public health, and issue proposed emission standards.
- Funding to have the study published in a scientific journal, which would allow for its findings to be considered by the EPA in future reviews of air quality standards for lead and to support the petition of the EPA to make the “endangerment findings.”
- Continue to secure a supply of unleaded aviation fuel for the County Airports System.
- Look into the possibility of a broader study of airborne lead emissions at general aviation airports, partnering with the California Department of Public Health and other jurisdictions with airports.
Additional requests from Supervisor Cindy Chavez direct staff to offer expertise to other jurisdictions seeking consultation on airborne airport lead; undertake a robust education and awareness campaign on lead health risks and next steps; update County health assessments with information from the new study; and begin testing lead levels for incarcerated youth at juvenile facilities.
Association between Airport-Related Ultrafine Particles and Risk of Malignant Brain Cancer: A Multiethnic Cohort Study
Anna H. Wu, Scott Fruin, Timothy V. Larson, Chiu-Chen Tseng, Jun Wu, Juan Yang, Jennifer Jain, Salma Shariff-Marco, Pushkar P. Inamdar, Veronica W. Setiawan, Jacqueline Porcel, Daniel O. Stram, Loic Le Marchand, Beate Ritz and Iona Cheng
Ultrafine particles (UFP; diameter less than or equal to 100 nm) may reach the brain via systemic circulation or the olfactory tract and have been implicated in the risk of brain tumors. The effects of airport-related UFP on the risk of brain tumors are not known. Here we determined the association between airport-related UFP, and risk of incident malignant brain cancer (n = 155) and meningioma (n = 420) diagnosed during 16.4 years of follow-up among 75,936 men and women residing in Los Angeles County from the Multiethnic Cohort study. UFP exposure from aircrafts was estimated for participants who lived within a 53 km × 43 km grid area around the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) from date of cohort entry (1993–1996) through December 31, 2013. Cox proportional hazards models were used to estimate the effects of time-varying, airport-related UFP exposure on risk of malignant brain cancer and meningioma, adjusting for sex, race/ethnicity, education, and neighborhood socioeconomic status. Malignant brain cancer risk in all subjects combined increased 12% [95% confidence interval (CI), 0.98–1.27] per interquartile range (IQR) of airport-related UFP exposure (∼6,700 particles/cm3) for subjects with any address in the grid area surrounding the LAX airport. In race/ethnicity-stratified analyses, African Americans, the subgroup who had the highest exposure, showed a HR of 1.32 (95% CI, 1.07–1.64) for malignant brain cancer per IQR in UFP exposure. UFP exposure was not related to risk of meningioma overall or by race/ethnicity. These results support the hypothesis that airport-related UFP exposure may be a risk factor for malignant brain cancers.
Significance: Malignant brain cancer risk increases with airport-related UFP exposure, particularly among African Americans, suggesting UFP exposure may be a modifiable risk factor for malignant brain cancer.
The San Jose, California-based reliever responds to community pressure following lead report.
At the regular Santa Clara County Board of Supervisor virtual meeting held on Tuesday, officials from Santa Clara County discussed the findings published in an airborne lead study report recently released regarding the environmental impact of the airport on the surrounding community.
The culprit this time? Leaded fuel purportedly driving higher blood lead levels (BLLs) in local children.
This forms the latest chapter in an ongoing quest by various factions to close the airport—a locus for flight training and an important reliever field to Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport for decades.
The pilots and business operators at Reid-Hillview are used to responding to community pressure, and last year came up with an action plan to mitigate any results of the survey by answering its main concern—the presence of lead in avgas, and by extrapolation, in the emissions of piston-powered aircraft based at the field.
The study left out the other sources of lead in the airport environs, including “lead-emitting industrial facilities [that] are more common in the vicinity of airports,” and “exposure to lead-based paint [that] is primarily a problem in older homes.” Both sources are prevalent around Reid-Hillview and have been tracked for decades.
Upon further inspection, the report also indicates that the BLLs found in the surrounding community were no higher than those found in other areas within the region. From the San Jose Spotlight: “The report, released last week, found that out of 17,000 blood samples from children ages 0-18 within 1.5 miles of the airport, only 1.7 percent have elevated lead levels which call for further testing and observation, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s threshold. The statewide average of children who meet the same criteria is between 1.5 percent and 2.6 percent depending on age.”
In anticipation of the report, however, local airport operators had already come up with a solution: To replace the 100LL available at KRHV with unleaded Swift 94UL avgas.
The fuel is a drop-in replacement for 100LL, requiring no supplemental type certification for about 60 percent of aircraft engine/airframe combinations—unless specifically required—such as the Lycoming O-320s and O-360s that power a broad range of training aircraft on the field.
Though the outcome report itself shows those levels are no more elevated than other neighborhoods in the greater San Jose area, community groups are using the report to inflame tensions between local residents and the airport—and operators such as Trade Winds Aviation are moving forward with plans to utilize the Swift fuel.
Walt Gyger, owner of Trade Winds Aviation, employs 40 people locally and the company’s fleet has grown to 12 airplanes—doubling the fleet and employees in last 10 years. Gyger has another location at the San Martin Airport (E16) to support Trade Wind’s expanded training, aircraft rental, and shared ownership operations.
He’s the founder of CAAPSO, the Community and Airport Partnership for Safe Operation that seeks to bring together community and airport operators and pilots around Reid-Hillview.
Gyger relates that this latest movement caps a 30-year quest driven by developers that want the land. “It was noise before, it was safety before, now they’ve picked lead,” Gyger told Flying.
The county, which governs the airport, in 2011 refused any further FAA monies so that the associated 20-year grant assurances requiring the county to continue to operate the airport would expire in 2031.
“We made efforts to bring unleaded fuel to the airport, so we know that’s not really the issue,” said Gyger. In fact, he’s received the first load of Swift fuel UL94 on Friday. “It strikes a chord with families, so it’s hard to dismiss it. We don’t like lead either so we pursued it.”
In fact, he expects even more good things to come from the switch.
“I’m looking forward to seeing the impact on the engines, how much cleaner the engines will be. Sticking valves may be a thing of the past.”
However, Gyger foresees a serious precedent that would be set if the county succeeds in closing the airport based on a report on leaded fuel.
“What Santa Clara County is doing will have an effect on every airport in the nation,” Gyger said. “Every airport has opponents, and they will make this claim.”
There is hope, however, and a path for other airports to consider. Gyger relates a conversation he had with the primary researcher on the study: “The researcher agreed that removing the lead from the avgas would have the same effect on reducing overall lead impact as closing the airport.”
Despite Santa Clara County officials describing lead exposure from Reid-Hillview Airport as a decades-long health crisis, a county-commissioned study shows elevated blood lead levels consistent with the state average.
The report, released last week, found that out of 17,000 blood samples from children ages 0-18 within 1.5 miles of the airport, only 1.7% have elevated lead levels which call for further testing and observation, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s threshold. The statewide average of children who meet the same criteria is between 1.5% and 2.6% depending on age.
The levels are also similar to neighboring counties. North of Santa Clara County, 1.5% of Alameda County children were found to have elevated blood levels, while approximately 2% of Santa Cruz County children showed elevated lead levels, based on data collected in 2018 by nonprofit research organization Population Reference Bureau.
More than 4.5 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood is considered an elevated lead level, as defined by the CDC, and medical intervention is required when more than 45 micrograms of lead are detected in a child.
Santa Clara County officials, led by Supervisor Cindy Chavez, have been gunning to close the airport for years. They say the airport signals issues of racial inequity because it endangers families living in vulnerable East San Jose neighborhoods, including communities of color, and the land could be better suited for affordable housing. Opponents of closing the airport say it helps alleviate air traffic for smaller planes and can be used in emergency situations.
 Sammy Zahran is a Professor of Demography and Associate Chair in the Department of Economics. Sammy is also a Professor in the Department of Epidemiology in the Colorado School of Public Health. From 2012-2014, he was Robert Wood Johnson Health and Society Fellow at Columbia University. In 2010, Sammy was awarded the prestigious Monfort Professorship at Colorado State University. His academic writings focus on the health and human capital costs of environmental externalities. His published research appears in Health Economics, Law and Policy, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Risk Analysis, Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Ecological Economics, Environmental Science and Technology, Climatic Change, Science of the Total Environment, Environmental Research, Journal of the Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, Environment International, American Journal of Public Health, International Journal of Epidemiology, and the Journal of Applied Statistics.
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