Chandramouli: Leaded fuel is hurting East San Jose families
The Reid-Hillview Airport in East San Jose is pictured in this file photo.

As a doctor, I know that lead is poison. Its effects are especially damaging to children.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) put it in stark terms: “Even low levels of lead in blood have been shown to affect IQ, ability to pay attention, and academic achievement.” The effect can result in a permanent disability in children. This can be devastating and is entirely preventable if proper measures are taken.

Every major medical and health organization—including the American Medical Association, Environmental Protection Agency and World Health Organization—agree with the CDC that there is no safe blood lead level in children.

That is why it is so important that Rep. Ro Khanna held a congressional hearing on July 28 on the dangers leaded aviation fuel pose to the environmental health of America’s communities and residents.

The testimony from Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez and Eastside community leader Marciela Lechuga made a powerful case for how leaded aviation fuel is poisoning some of the most marginalized and vulnerable children in Santa Clara County who live in the neighborhoods surrounding Reid-Hillview Airport.

A 2021 peer-reviewed study commissioned by the county found children living within a mile-and-a-half of Reid-Hillview have blood lead levels on par with those found in the children of Flint, Michigan during the height of that city’s water crisis.

Many of these children already face multiple social and economic struggles.

At Meyer Elementary School, located immediately adjacent to the end of the airport’s runway, more than 88% of students are considered socioeconomically disadvantaged and qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.

Meyer Elementary is just one of 21 schools or day care centers within a mile-and-a-half of the airport.

The ZIP code that includes Reid-Hillview, 95148, has had more confirmed COVID cases than the entire city of Mountain View, despite having just over half that city’s population.

As a community, we have an opportunity right now to help these kids by ending the use of leaded aviation fuel in the U.S.

Piston engine planes are the source of 70% of the nation’s airborne lead pollution. There are more than 160,000 planes in the U.S. that use leaded fuel. They take off and land from 20,000 airports. Approximately 5 million people live near those airports, including 360,000 children.

Supervisor Chavez and her colleagues on the Board of Supervisors voted unanimously last summer to take the historic step of ending the sale of leaded aviation fuel at Reid-Hillview and San Martin airports. Congressman Khanna’s hearings show why the entire U.S. needs to join Santa Clara County in ending the use of this fuel.

Ranjani Chandramouli, MD, is medical director of Gardner Health Services in San Jose.

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