Echoing the request for an investigation to see if there is a dangerous amount of lead in the air near Santa Monica Airport, the Mar Vista Community Council voted unanimously Sept. 13 to send a letter to the state Environmental Protection Agency in support of state Sen. Ted Lieu’s (D-Marina del Rey) earlier appeal.
A July 13 study funded in part by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency indicated that children who live within 500 meters of airports have significantly higher levels of lead in their blood. Children within 1,000 meters of airports also had increased lead levels, the study found.
“Our analysis indicates that living within 1,000 meters of an airport where aviation gasoline is used may have a significant effect on blood lead levels in children. Our results further suggest that the impacts of aviation gasoline are highest among those children,” the report states.
The analysis, which targeted minors living near airfields in North Carolina, revealed lead in their blood was caused by piston aircraft using aviation gasoline.
Lieu, who chairs the Senate Select Committee on Air Quality, asked the state environmental agency to open an investigation July 28 to determine if the situation is also occurring at Santa Monica Airport.
“I am writing to request that the Department of Toxic Substance Control conduct a formal investigation of a dangerously toxic situation for California residents who live adjacent to Santa Monica Airport,” Lieu wrote to Deborah Raphael, the director of the EPA’s Department of Toxic Substance Control.
In the Mar Vista council’s letter to Raphael, the board offered its full support to Lieu’s July 28 request, asking that the Department of Toxic Substance Control conduct a formal investigation of the pollutants stemming from aircraft operations at Santa Monica Airport.
“Mar Vista is in the flight path loop that students use for practice flights. Approximately half of all of the airport operations at the airport are practice flights. Aviation gasoline contains lead,” the letter states. “Recent studies have shown a correlation with elevated blood-lead levels in children and airports.
“All these facts have Mar Vista residents very concerned.”
Mar Vista homeowners who reside on the eastern edge of the airport feel the effects of what many say are the toxic fumes emanating from propeller airplanes that use the airport, and that was one of many reasons that the local council decided to submit a letter to the state environmental officials.
“It disturbs me to no end to hear about elevated blood-lead levels in the children who live and go to school around the Santa Monica Airport,” said Mar Vista Community Council Second Vice President Bill Koontz. “I literally cringe every time I go to Clover Park (in Santa Monica) and see the children playing near the back fence that abuts the airfield.”
Martin Rubin, director of the anti-pollution group Concerned Residents Against Airport Pollution, applauded the community council for its support.
“I am thrilled that the Mar Vista Community Council has sent a letter supporting Ted Lieu’s request,” said Rubin, who sent a similar letter on behalf of his organization to the state Sept. 1.
“Please accept this opportunity to demonstrate strong leadership and help protect the many thousands of residents who find themselves in harm’s way from exposure to toxins produced by Santa Monica Airport’s aircraft operations,” the Mar Vista council letter concludes.
In his letter, Lieu noted the proximity of residences to the airport’s runway.
“Some residents live less than 300 feet away, and the exhaust from aircraft blows into their homes on a daily basis,” the senator noted. “Multiple studies have shown that residents near Santa Monica – many of whom live in the Senate district I represent – ingest significantly higher levels of suspended particulate lead and ultra-fine particulate matter.
“I have visited many of these homes and I believe the soil is also contaminated with lead and other toxic particulate matter.”
The Department of Toxic Substances did not state whether it was currently investigating the lead levels at Santa Monica Airport. “Sen. Lieu raised some important issues in his letter and (our department) is in the process of contacting him to discuss his requests,” Charlotte Fadipe, the department’s chief of media and press relations, told The Argonaut.
Santa Monica Airport Association President Steven Stiry said he does not take issue with Lieu’s request for an investigation into the amount of toxins in the bloodstreams of children, but wonders why the probe targets Santa Monica Airport.
“Why isn’t (Lieu) requesting the same investigation at Torrance or Hawthorne Airport?” the association president asked. “Once again, I think Santa Monica Airport is being singled out.”
Stiry noted that fuel manufacturers are exploring alternative methods to using low lead fuel in airplane engines. “If there’s low lead fuel being used, there’s bound to be residue in the air,” he said.
Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Ian Gregor stated in July that his agency has taken specific steps to limit emissions from jets waiting to take off from Santa Monica.
“We instruct jet pilots not to fire up their engines until just before they get takeoff clearances. That way, they don’t idle while waiting for a hole to open up in the (Los Angeles International Airport) departure flow,” Gregor explained. “Also, we keep idling jets with their engines facing down the runway until they’re ready to taxi into position for takeoff. This prevents jet exhaust from blowing directly into neighborhoods immediately north of the airport.”
The Venice Neighborhood Council supported a similar motion to the Mar Vista board’s at its Sept. 20 meeting.
Mar Vista and Venice have forged a collaboration of the last year on airport matters. Both support closing the six flight schools at Santa Monica Airport as well as a change in the flight path from the airport that currently extends over Los Angeles.
While some like Rubin want to see the flight schools leave the airport, Koontz said he is more flexible, providing certain conditions are met.
“While I agree that training pilots is an important service for the community, I also feel that some type of compromise needs to be reached as to where that training happens,” he said.
“I would be happy to see the flight schools stay if they were to head to a less populated area to practice their endless taxi-backs. This would not only decrease the chance of another crash but also reduce the amount of lead being sprinkled onto our heads until the FAA can get their act together and start banning lead additives in Av-Gas (aviation gasoline, fuel used in piston-powered aircraft.)”
The FAA is currently analyzing possible changes to the flight path.
“We just had our first joint meeting of the two airport committees a few months ago and certainly would support almost every motion they have been working on,” said Koontz, referring to the two neighborhood councils. “Although some of their issues are slightly different from ours we overlap on quite a few.
“Like I have always said, ‘we may be on different pages but we are certainly in the same book.’”
Stiry expressed skepticism with legislators like Lieu and others who have been critical of the airport and its operations.
“I feel that a good part of their concern is political,” he asserted.
Koontz thanked Lieu for calling for the investigation.
“I look forward to Sen. Lieu’s aggressive actions in these matters,” he said. “He has always been an advocate for the protection of his stakeholders and I’m glad he is flexing a little political muscle.”