Santa Clara Soil Tests Show Low Lead Levels


Santa Clara County officials in California dug deeper into the leaded aviation fuel debate hobbling their local airport, and a study found the ground around the airport has acceptable levels of lead. However, it took some dogged determination by the local newspaper to bring the study to light. The $130,000 probe took samples from 32 locations around Reid-Hillview Airport the airport at 6 and 18 inches below the surface and none exceeded local, state or federal standards. A similar study of San Martin Airport, 23 miles south of Reid-Hillview, turned up similar results. The study was not publicly released until the San Jose Mercury News did a public records check.

It’s another piece of the ongoing controversy that has led to Santa Clara County banning 100LL at both airports, forcing operators whose aircraft need the higher octane fuel to fill up elsewhere before going there. The ban came after a study released a year ago suggested kids living near the airport had elevated lead levels, but those findings were contested. The study says the highest level of lead in soil was found near a major highway intersection and came in at 46.7 milligrams per kilogram, just below the danger level of 50-800 mg/kg.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

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  1. I find it hard to believe a government body would knowingly attempt to mislead its constituents…wonder what the motivation for this type of activity could be ?
    Welcome to sarcasm…

  2. No big surprise. Solve the issue and start selling ethanol-free Mogas there cheap. For the cost of the study they could have discounted the mogas substantially to offset the low cost of the Mogas STCs for those who don’t have one already.

    • That still won’t help the aircraft that actually need the higher-octane fuel. But there is at least one unleaded 100-octane fuel that will, if only it could get through the final signature of the STC process…

      • Yeah, Gary, but the people within the FAA who would provide the final signature for G100UL are — sadly — likely in cahoots with the same people who lied, covered up or otherwise obfuscated the facts and unilaterally banned 100LL at these two Kalyfornya airports.

        I wish someone would pound into the heads of these fanatics that ENERGY (translate that as mobility) is what powers our society. Just this AM, I watched an excellent 14-minute TED Talk about the scam of electric vehicles being zero emission … they are not. If you’re interested …

        I am choosing to NOT renew my AOPA subscription for their signing onto the EAGLE program when they ought to be pushing George Braly’s G100UL, in parallel.

  3. Isn’t this the very same airport close to a closed racetrack and a chemical factory? There couldn’t be a false positive reading when some automatons took their initial findings public? Incert sarcasm here too…

  4. Do not be confused by the scientific facts here. This is just one more example of the superior intellect of CA leading raving liberals to do what they know is best for the stupid and ignorant public, based upon political dogma not rational analysis and evaluation. Businesses and individuals continue to leave this crazy state in droves.

  5. With Air Taxi Operators,globally,switching to turbo props,such as the Cessna 208 etc,in recent years,and many aircraft certified for mogas,would the present consumption of 100 low L really be cause for concern

  6. It was never about the lead anyway, that was all just another of the multiplicity of sideshows that are always ginned up to support the actual objective, which in this case is to free up the airport land for other purposes. Californians remember the obscure sub-species of smelt that were enlisted to block diversion of runoff water for human use. Elevation of some derelict home or abandoned commercial building to critical social significance or the discovery of previously unknown sacred ground are other perennially popular blocking aids.

  7. Folks- National politics aside, as part of team trying to save our airport (KRHV) this has potential to finally push back on flood of false BS coming from local politicians who simply want the $! Billion piece of property so their friends can develop it and they can spend the tax revenues.. (yeah, wholesale value of the airport land is more than $5M/acre times 180 acres..). Lead was the manufactured crisis by Supervisor Chavez to force a vote to “stop poisoning the children” even though lead levels in blood are higher in a number of other county locations nowhere near an airport. Lead was also the reason county supervisors (the 1 swing vote) failed to support the airport back in 2018 when vote on FAA Grant funding came up. And there are a lot of reasons why Mogas won’t work at large government-owned facility in California, including lack of ethanol-free gas, liabilities and lack of STC’s for quite a few aircraft. UL94 from Swift is working for 90% of RHV Flight Operations today (mostly training and lots of C-172’s and 150’s), and we look forward to a real unleaded 100 octane. There are close to 50 aircraft at RHV that need 100 octane Avgas. And politically our county is not going to bring back 100 LL short of a court order… The higher goal is to keep the airport alive with whatever version of avgas we can get…

    • I can’t see this as anything other than one group trying to manipulate the local public into giving them what they want (land for development $$$) by teasing at the heartstrings of “environmentalism.” That said, soil samples by themselves probably don’t provide a complete picture of what’s happening. Regardless, TEL, is manufactured by a single supplier; if you want to ensure the survival of general aviation single engine piston ops, it would behoove all of us to advocate for whatever is required to get UL100 approved as soon as possible.

      Thanks to Paul Bertorelli for the good article recently on this approval process- I share in the frustration as minuscule as my contribution is to the problem.

  8. I’m not surprised the study was buried when it didn’t get the results the county wanted. If the county commissioners were really concerned about lead, they would be lobbying their senators and representatives to get 100UL certified.
    We need all of our GA airports for pilot training to address the pilot shortage. Huge numbers of students come from all over the world because they don’t have GA in their home countries.

  9. Lead is not an issue. Climate is not an issue.
    The real issues threatening society are us.

      • BOTH are greatly exagerated to the point of “crisis”.
        Different topics, exact same mechanism used for panic.

        • I certainly agree with you that climate change often gets exaggerated to the point of ridiculousness. Climate change is a real problem, but one that needs to be addressed with nuance and long-term thinking and engineering innovation.

          But the lead issue in this case is totally different- manipulation by the developer class to line their pockets under the guise of “environmentalism.” At least that’s my take, I welcome informed opinions to the contrary.

  10. Also for MANY years the San Jose Speedway was adjacent to the airport and the V8 race engines ran at 2-3x aircraft engine RPM burning leaded race fuel night after night. The airport is also flanked by two of the largest multi-lane roads in the city.

    Significantly more lead fumes were emitted from cars over the decades than planes in this exact area. Still the study proved no lead contamination.

    The whole local political process is corrupted by land developers. They have plotted for years and multiple attempts to get their hands on this 180 acres.

    Previously they County has deliberately neglected the airport and EVERYTHING there is crumbling to the ground, impacting public pressure for a revival.