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Jet Pollution at Santa Monica Airport Poses Health Risks, Researchers Find

By Lookout Staff

November 18, 2009 -- A UCLA study released Wednesday found that air pollution levels were ten times higher than normal near the east end of Santa Monica Airport's runway, which faces residences.

The long-awaited report adds fuel to neighbors' complaints that they have been exposed for years to the health risks of emissions that leave a think coat of soot on their patio furniture and in their pools.

"The observation of highly elevated ultrafine particle concentrations in a large residential area downwind of this local airport has potential health implications for persons living near general aviation airports," the study found.

The pollution was measured downwind of Santa Monica Airport in the spring and summer of last year using an electric vehicle mobile platform equipped with fast response instruments, according to researchers.

"Peak ultrafine particle (UFP) concentrations were reasonably correlated with fuel consumption rates associated with aircraft departures, estimated from aircraft weights and acceleration rates," researchers wrote.

"UFP concentrations remained elevated for extended periods associated particularly with jet departures, but also with jet taxi and idle, and operations of propeller aircraft," the study found.

Studies have found that ultrafine particles -- which are far tinier than the diameter of a human hair -- are "small enough to pass through the lung tissue into the blood stream, circulating like the oxygen molecules themselves," according to the American Lung Association.

The particles also are small enough to penetrate tissue and to get past the blood-brain barrier, researchers have found. The particles can pose health risks for children, the elderly and those suffering from respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.

Other small airports in urban areas can pose similar risks, which should be addressed, the UCLA report found.

Jet operations had been steadily increasing at Santa Monica’s 63-year-old municipal, from 17,736 in 2005, to 18,101 in 2006, to a high of 18,575 in 2007.

The upward trend -- fueled by the Westside’s rise as a booming entertainment and high-tech mecca – skyrocketed after 9/11, as the very rich and top corporate executives sought a way around long security checks at LAX, airport officials said.

The jets also became larger after companies like NetJets began offering “fractional ownership” as well as leases of large, luxurious jets, according to aviation experts.

The City's efforts to regulate jet traffic has put it in a collision course with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which sued the City after the council banned larger faster jets at Santa Monica Airport in April 2008. (“Jet Ban Awaits Court Order,” April 24, 2008)

In ordering the City to suspend the ordinance approved by the council, the FAA argued that the measure -- which bans C and D aircraft with approach speeds of between 139 and 191 mph -- is unnecessary and would harm jet operators.

The City called the federal government’s challenge a “legal assault” on an ordinance responding to increasing concerns that soaring jet traffic is putting neighboring homes, as well as pilots, in danger.

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