Chemical Plant

Lead at Reid Hillview

What is Lead? Is it dangerous?

Lead is a heavy metal on the Periodic Table of Elements. Prior to 1980, the substance was used widely throughout the United States for a wide variety of purposes, where it was used as additives for substances like paint and automotive gasoline. 

While lead was so heavily incorporated in our lives, previously, it was found that it would have a tremendously negative impact on human beings. The Center for Disease Control has identified no use for lead in the human body, and has also linked it to several hazardous health defects., thus making lead a very harmful and toxic element.

Such potential health effects can include both short and long term symptoms such as the following:

  • Abdominal pain

  • Constipated

  • Depressed

  • Distracted

  • Forgetful

  • Irritable

  • Nauseous/Sick

Specifically, when it comes to children, the CDC has also outlined the specific developmental effects that come from early lead exposure. These include: 

  • Damage to the brain and nervous system

  • Slowed growth and development

  • Learning and behavior problems

  • Hearing and speech problems

In recent years, the use of lead has sharply declined as it has been slowly banned from the numerous places where it has once been used. It is advised that humans shoud avoid lead exposure at all costs; especially younger children whose developing bodies can experience significant adverse affects as they grow-up from prolonged lead exposure. However, to this day, the CDC has identified the following as potential sources of lead exposure.

  • Homes built before 1978 (when lead-based paints were banned) probably contain lead-based paint.

  • Some products such as toys and jewelry.

  • Some candies or traditional home remedies.

  • Certain jobs and hobbies involve working with lead-based products, like stain glass work.

  • Living near airports due to aircraft use of leaded gasoline.

What does lead have to do with airplanes?

A majority of the piston-engine aircraft in the United States utilize 100LL, or "100 Low Lead," which incorporates an additive know as "Tetraethyl Lead," which is used as an "anti-knocking" agent.

In all internal combustion engines, much like those you would find in a car, there is the risk of a phenomenon known as "detonation" or "knocking." When this occurs, the fuel-air mixture which is used to turn the propeller, explodes, rather than burn. While that may sound confusing, there is an important distinction between these two when it comes to the proper operation of engines. 

A majority of the piston-engine aircraft in the United States utilize 100LL, or "100 Low Lead," which incorporates an additive know as "Tetraethyl Lead," which is used as an "anti-knocking" agent.

In all internal combustion engines, much like those you would find in a car, there is the risk of a phenomenon known as "detonation" or "knocking." When this occurs, the fuel-air mixture which is used to turn the propeller, explodes, rather than burn. While that may sound confusing, there is an important distinction between these two when it comes to the proper operation of engines. 

History of Lead at Reid Hillview

At the request of CAAPSO member, Michael McDonald, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, or BAAQMD, set in place airborne lead detectors in the vicinity of Reid Hillview airport.

In 2021, a study was released by the Mountain Data Group. The author, Dr. Sammy Zahran, found evidence to suggest that there were elevated Blood Lead Levels in the children living within 1.5 miles of the Reid Hillview Airport. Many citizens in the area were outraged due to the known toxic effects of lead. County officials used the results to continue to spread fear about the airport's continued operation. Legislation would be drafted by the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors to take action to end the emissions of lead at the airport, which would include banning the sale of 100LL at Reid Hillview and possibly closing the airport prior to the expiration of the Airport Improvement Grants which mandate the airport's continued operation until 2031.

Is the airport to blame?

The study had a large amount of data that was incredibly complex to process. However, the team at CAAPSO, specifically member Michael McDonald, has graciously looked through, and found some very interesting information.

In short, the health "hazard," was not made out to be nearly as big of an issue as local organizations reported it to be. The study indicates that in reality, only just over 20% of the Blood Lead Levels in the vicinity of Santa Clara County can be traced to the airport, leaving nearly 80% unaccounted for! Even one of the peer reviewers of the study which ignited this whole debacle said that this was not a "health crisis."

Are we doing anything to stop the lead?

Pilots don't like lead! We expose ourselves to it too as we have to regularly inspect the tanks, refuel our airplanes, and stand in close proximity to engine exhaust. Even the airplanes themselves don't love it that much as it can cause all sorts of unpleasant side effects during operation.

Unfortunately, these efforts have been hampered due to the very strict certification process that is required by the FAA to ensure the safe operation of air

You can read all about the measures that Reid Hillview, and the general aviation community have taken to mitigate the lead emissions in the United States at the page we've linked below!

RESOURCES FOR LEAD INFO