Santa Clara County Files Petition Urging EPA To Enact Nationwide Ban of Leaded Aviation Gasoline

The County of Santa Clara, together with a nationwide coalition of community groups represented by Earthjustice, filed a petition​ today calling on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to take the necessary steps to eliminate lead pollution from aircraft throughout the United States.

The Petition for Rulemaking urges the EPA to find that lead pollution from aircraft poses a danger to public health and welfare and to take swift regulatory action to protect local communities that have been burdened for generations by this damaging toxin.

The 39 nonprofits, public agencies and community groups submitted a letter of support urging the EPA to act quickly on the petition. The petition comes on the heels of a study commissioned by the county on lead exposure risks for 13,000 children living near Reid-Hillview Airport in East San José, located in the heart of Silicon Valley.

“This is a health and equity crisis that extends far beyond our county’s borders, and we are taking urgent action to protect our residents and residents across the country from exposure to lead from aircraft operations,” said Supervisor Cindy Chavez, who represents the district in which Reid-Hillview Airport is located. “It is unconscionable and unacceptable that children like those living near Reid-Hillview Airport continue to breathe lead fumes from piston-engine aircraft. The nation’s children deserve better.”

The use of leaded gasoline in most motor vehicles was banned 25 years ago, but leaded aviation fuel is still used by nearly 170,000 piston-engine aircraft operating at 20,000 general aviation airports across the country, according to the county. Emissions from aviation fuel account for 70% of lead released into the air in the United States. Leaded aviation fuel is the only transportation fuel that is not regulated by the EPA, said county staff.

The recent county-commissioned study revealed that children living downwind of the airport had blood lead level increases on par with those detected during the peak of the Flint, Mich., water crisis.

During times of maximum aircraft traffic, children within a half mile of the airport had an increased blood lead level of 0.83 micrograms per deciliter—nearly twice that observed at the height of the Flint watercCrisis. Even children commuting toward Reid-Hillview Airport for school were at greater risk. Like Reid-Hillview, most general aviation airports with the highest lead emissions are located in communities of color, making EPA’s failure to regulate this toxin a major environmental justice concern.

On Aug. 17, at its first public meeting after the release of the Reid-Hillview lead study, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors voted to take all available actions to immediately prevent lead exposures from Reid-Hillview Airport, in addition to submitting the Petition to force regulatory action nationwide.

“The EPA knows that lead is highly toxic, especially to children,” said Board of Supervisors President Mike Wasserman, whose supervisorial district is home to another general aviation airport. “Our county is doing everything we can to protect our residents from these toxic fumes, but action is needed by the EPA to ensure the switch to unleaded fuel across the nation.”

Over 5 million people, including 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. It is widely accepted that there is no safe level of blood lead. Even small levels of exposure are linked to permanently lowered IQ and other cognitive, behavioral, and health harms.

In 2006, Friends of the Earth—one of the signatories to today’s Petition—petitioned the EPA to make an endangerment finding for leaded aviation gasoline and to begin regulating this source of harmful lead emissions. In response, the agency said it planned to issue an endangerment finding in 2015, but it never did.

“The Clean Air Act requires the EPA to regulate lead emissions from aviation gasoline because these emissions endanger public health,” explained County Counsel James R. Williams ina statement released by the county. “The EPA has made similar findings about the danger of lead for decades. We are filing this petition to compel EPA’s long-overdue regulation of this last remaining leaded fuel and to ensure the federal government fulfills its legal obligation to keep our communities safe and promote environmental justice.”

More information about the Reid-Hillview Airport Blood Lead Study can be found here:

For more information about the county’s efforts to prevent and address lead exposures to its residents was filed today by the Office of the County Counsel, together with Earthjustice and its clients Alaska Community Action on Toxics, Center for Environmental Health, Friends of the Earth, Montgomery-Gibbs Environmental Coalition, and Oregon Aviation Watch.



  1. Corrupt CindyChavez Twisting and Sensationalizing the results of the study to MISLEAD and Raise Anxiety in the ill-informed public for Political Gains – Totally Disgusting.

    But the Study found..”elevated blood levels of children around Reid-Hillview appear to be ON PAR WITH THOSE ACROSS THE STATE.
    The county-commissioned study noted that 1.7% of children in the vicinity of Reid-Hillview had lead levels high enough to warrant additional screening.”
    “The statewide average of children who meet the same criteria is between 1.5% and 2.6% depending on age.” (SanJoseSpotlight).

    “Blood Lead Ranges Close To The San Jose Airport Are Common Regardless Of The Alarm”
    North of Santa Clara County, 1.5% of children in Alameda County had elevated blood levels, while approximately 2% of children in Santa Cruz County had elevated levels of lead, (2018 Population Reference Bureau).

    “Residents under the age of 18 who lived near the airport had an average blood lead level of 1.83 micrograms, according to the study, while those who lived in the wind path east of the airport had an average of 2.2 micrograms – still WELL BELOW the CDC -Criteria for elevated blood lead levels.”

    Corrupt Chavez declined to comment when asked about the report, which shows elevated blood lead levels in children near Reid-Hillview Airport are in line with the national average.

  2. “health and equity crisis” *** STUPID *** and obvious political gaming

    “environmental justice” *** STUPID ***

  3. The impact and consequences of the Reid-Hillview Airport are not only gauged by the degree of lead poisoning in the bodies of children (and adults) in the surrounding neighborhoods. Dedication of public property and resources for leisure and profit by a small number of people who don’t reside in the area– resources that could be dedicated to improving the quality of life of tens of thousands of children (and adults) who do live nearby–that is the real scandal here.


    As disingenuous and petty the politicians involved, the failure of land use and environment impact studies, etc. it is VERY difficult to disagree with your statement. Families HAVE to be the priority and if that means its a bit more difficult to experience hobbies etc, that is a choice we have to make. This bigger issue, how can anyone trust these co-opted clowns to do the right thing and build cost effective homes that can grow home ownership into lower income levels. If they build projects, they will end up where all projects end in the US. If they build deed restricted homes, all it will be is rent with a mortgage as it will be impossible to build significant equity. If they build market rate only, its going to be hard to give middle income owners a fair shot.

  5. If these Democrat politicians are so determined to demonstrate that closing Reid Hillview was really because of their concern about lead contamination and not because they want to fill it with high density housing as most of us suspect then let them prove it by using the land to create a park or a community garden or some other asset that will benefit the entire city.
    Yeah right.

  6. I wish you were right Steven. Surround it with barbed wire fence. Call it our own little Chernobyl. Leave it empty in perpetuity so as not to contribute to San Jose’s squalor.
    Works for me.

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  8. I’m still not quite sure what the real story is here. If the concern was actually lead levels in children, wouldn’t the real concern be the large commercial airport in the middle of San Jose, rather than a small regional airport on the edge of San Jose in a far less populated area? Does somebody just have a problem with Reid-Hillview Airport and is trying to make a lead argument, which doesn’t seem to have all that much merit?

  9. K Boz, I don’t know if any of the Lead “Fear-mongering” agenda based articles explained the reason for lead in small engine aircraft (commercial air/jets use a different fuel) – its an Octane Booster – main reason is to Prevent Engine Failure – sort of very important for an aircraft.

    FAA: “First & foremost, the use of leaded fuels is an Operational Safety Issue, because without the additive TEL (Tetraethyl Lead), the Octane Levels would be Too Low for some engines, and use of a lower octane fuel than required could lead to engine failure.
    As a result, the additive TEL has not been banned from avgas.”

    “Owners & operators of more than 167,000 piston-engine aircraft operating in the U.S. rely on aviation gasoline (avgas) to power their aircraft.
    Avgas is the only remaining lead-containing transportation fuel.
    Lead in avgas prevents Damaging Engine Knock, or Detonation, that can result in a sudden engine failure.”

    FAA “Aircraft operating on leaded aviation gasoline (avgas) are used for many critical purposes, including business and personal travel, instructional flying, aerial surveys, agriculture, firefighting, law enforcement, medical emergencies, and express freight. “

  10. Many aircraft are able to use unleaded auto gas if there is no Ethanol in it , in fact it is better for the aircraft engine .
    Many states provide auto gas and 100ll at airports. If california did this we could see a drastic decrease in the use of leaded gasoline used in aircraft.

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