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Wildfires Could Impact Air Quality Study at Santa Monica Airport


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By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

December 7, 2017 -- Amid the poorest air quality in decades as fires rage around Santa Monica, City officials are determining the status of a pollution study that was set to commence at its municipal airport this week.

The study -- scheduled to begin this week before work to shorten the length of Santa Monica Airport's runway starts Sunday -- is expected to help determine the impact of air traffic, particularly jets, on air quality near Santa Monica Airport (SMO).

The study conducted by Tufts University is intended to set a bench mark for the quality of air for SMO by looking at the airport before, during and after the work, which officials say will reduce jet traffic ("Tufts University Selected for Air Quality Study at Santa Monica Airport," December 4, 2017).

On Tuesday, a choking cloud of unhealthy smoke and ash descended on the city, propelled by Santa Ana winds from a wildfire near Sylmar and, on Wednesday, a separate blaze on the Sepulveda Pass.

The smoke conditions presented an entirely new challenge for gauging the health impact of SMO and raised concerns among advocates of the study that it will not provide an accurate picture of SMO’s air quality.

City officials on Wednesday hadn’t determined how to proceed.

“We are very saddened by the devastating impacts of the fires to our neighboring communities,” said Suja Lowenthal, senior advisor to the City Manager on airport matters.

“Although our air quality study is extremely important, our focus at this time is ensuring that our neighbors are safe and supported,” she said.

The City is “working closely with the Tufts/USC team to determine the impacts of the fires on our air quality monitoring efforts,” according to an official response released by her office on behalf of the City.

“The fires that are burning in Los Angeles and Ventura County are rapidly evolving and very active at this time. There may be impacts to the monitoring efforts at the Airport. We will know more in the coming days,” the statement said.

The findings are meant to serve as update to the air quality study conducted by the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) in 2010 and 2011.

Those whose neighborhoods surround SMO, in Santa Monica and West Los Angeles, have been vocal about health-related concerns like toxic pollution from air traffic, especially since the use of chartered jets there began soaring.

The most current report shows take offs and landings at SMO last year totaled 87,904, down 30 percent from 127,036 operations in 2007 ("Jet Operations and Related Noise Violations Rise at Santa Monica Airport," October 24, 2017).

Yet jet use at SMO has mostly risen, reaching 17,338 operations last year, or 20 percent of the total, the report said.

It marks the highest level of jet use since 2007, when the total was 18,575, according to SMO’s annual report this year.

SMO is due to permanently close on the last day of 2028 under a consent decree between the City Council and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) ("City, FAA Agree to Close Santa Monica Airport in 2028," January 28, 2017).

The shortening of the runway is being undertaken as an interim step the City hopes will reduce jets – the biggest source of complaints from neighborhoods in Santa Monica and West Los Angeles.

The first phase started on October 23 and lasts until December 13. Work is done nightly from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m., Monday through Friday. SMO is closed to aircraft operations during those hours.

Phase Two begins on December 13 and conclude December 23, when all aircraft are barred.

The City Council recently signed off on an $54,342 agreement with Tuft’s to conduct the monitoring.


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