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Public Awareness Campaign Shows Dangers Of Lead Fuel On Children Living Near Reid-Hillview Airport

SAN JOSE (KPIX) -- Raising public awareness about the dangerous combination of leaded airplane fuel at San Jose's Reid-Hillview Airport and the children who live nearby is the goal of a new outreach and education campaign in Santa Clara County.

"The privileged few keep flying their airplanes. The difference is their children are not being subjected to any of this poison," says Maria Reyes, a spokesperson for the Cassell Neighborhood Association.

Reyes says she hopes the county's education campaign is just the first step in closing the airport down for good.

"I feel that our community needs to have this danger removed," she said.

County officials have been trying to speed up plans to close the airport after a study of more than 13,000 children living near Reid-Hillview found elevated levels of lead in their blood.

Supervisor Cindy Chavez says even the county's recent ban of leaded fuel at the airport does not fully mitigate the risk of lead from small airplane fuel.

"People can still buy leaded fuel and bring it onto the location and they're doing that. And when people fly in from other airports, they don't necessarily have to have unleaded fuel in their tanks," Supervisor Chavez said.

Pilots and airport business owner, however, say they've tried to be good neighbors.

"Pilots, we don't like lead either," says Walter Gyger, owner of Tradewinds Aviation.

Gyger says the airport even before the county's ban began trucking in unleaded fuel from the midwest. He says it would take federal action from the FAA to get the entire small airplane industry to switch to unleaded fuel.

"The sooner lead goes away from our operations the better. The fact is the industry is not there yet to have the fuel available for all airplanes," he said.

The Board of Supervisors is planning to vote to hire a company to conduct the education and outreach campaign. It will involve people going door to door educating people in multiple languages about the dangers of lead poisoning.

"I think we need to continue to advocate for the closure of the airport because that's what we've heard from the community," says Andrea Portillo, a spokesperson for the community advocacy organization Somos Mayfair.

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