By Devin Fehely

SAN JOSE (KPIX) — Two prominent South Bay pediatricians have joined the call to accelerate the closure of San Jose’s Reid Hillview Airport in light of a new study that found elevated lead levels in the blood of children living in nearby neighborhoods.

“Once a child has been poisoned with lead, it’s too late,” says Dr. Stephen Harris at a press conference outside the airport.

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Dr. Harris spoke against a near-constant backdrop of small planes taking off and landing at the airport popular with pilots in training.

“Lead exposure in infants and children leads to lower IQ scores, worse cognitive development and poorer outcomes in school,” says Dr. Harris.

The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors commissioned the study which analyzed blood samples from 17,000 children living near the airport between 2011 and 2020.

Critics of the airport say the findings were disturbing. The report found that elevated levels of lead in the blood of children living closest to the airport, drawing comparisons to lead poisoning in Flint, Michigan in 2014.

“I would like it closed because of all of the pollution. It’s undeniable,” says Julizamarie Marquez whose family have lived in the area for several years.

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Supporters of the airport say there has been a decades-long campaign to shut down the facility — lead pollution only being the most recent stated reason. Supporters say the study is far from definitive and doesn’t rule out other possible source of lead contamination like lead-based paints.

“Unleaded fuel can be used by about 70 percent of airplanes right away,” says Walter Gyger, owner of Tradewinds Aviation.

Gyger says the airport is mere weeks away from switching to unleaded fuel which should lessen any potential environmental impact on neighborhoods.

“The challenge is a logistical one because the fuel is brought in from Indiana. That’s quite a ways away. There’s no local refinery who is producing that fuel,” he said.

Critics say the move is too little, too late.

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“This is a preventable disease — preventable lead poisoning. And the last thing we want is our children to be exposed to further damage,” said Dr. Ranjani Chandramouli.