Buoyed by recent research conducted by a UCLA professor and her colleagues that found a high concentration of ultrafine particles east of Santa Monica Airport, two neighborhood organizations are holding a community forum in the hopes of drawing more attention to what members say is a matter of public health.

The meeting, which will take place Monday, January 11th, will feature a panel of speakers who have presented studies on airport emissions at Santa Monica’s general aviation airport. The forum is sponsored by Concerned Residents Against Airport Pollution and the North Westdale Neighborhood Association.

One member of the panel will be Dr. Suzanne Paulson, a UCLA professor of atmospheric and oceanic sciences who conducted the November air pollution study, which was published in that month’s issue of Environmental Science and Technology.

“During our research, we found detectable levels of (particles) around the eastern portion of the airport,” Paulson told The Argonaut in November. “They are clearly coming from somewhere.”

Paulson said that the levels of ultrafine particles do not extend to other areas around the airport.

The study was conducted jointly with UCLA’s School of Public Health and the Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences Department.

Neighborhood activists who have argued for years that pollutants from the airport have created an environmental hazard believe that Paulson’s study is a momentum-builder toward getting both city officials and the public more involved in fighting for cleaner air in the residential communities near the airport.

“This UCLA study is groundbreaking in that it was designed specifically to capture shorter term air quality samples downwind from Santa Monica Airport and separate aircraft operations from other sources using state-of-the-art monitoring equipment,” said Martin Rubin, the executive director of Concerned Residents Against Airport Pollution.

Rubin and others also believe that air toxins from jet fumes are a contributing factor to an increased level of cancer in neighborhoods east of the airport, although Paulson’s research did not indicate that.

“Without a scientific study, it’s difficult to tell from anecdotal data,” the UCLA professor said. “Unfortunately, we just don’t know.”

Bahaa Mikhail, the Westdale Neighborhood Association president, is confident that the research compiled by UCLA can serve as the catalyst to more attention from state and local government entities.

“I believe that this study will get the ball rolling,” he said. “I’m hoping that this will get our community and our elected officials to take notice of what’s going on.”

Rubin also cited the study as a rallying cry for anyone who wants to see more aggressive action taken to fight for cleaner air.

“The public should understand that their health and well-being has been in jeopardy for years, and this new UCLA study should empower them to stand up and demand that this environmental crime be rectified,” he asserted.

After attending a meeting of the city’s Task Force on the Environment last month, Santa Monica City Councilman Kevin McKeown asked to have the topic of airport pollution placed on the January 12th council agenda.

“Santa Monica already hosted a forum on the new UCLA study of jet exhaust, but because the principal authors were unable to schedule a presentation, our Task Force on the Environment will continue the discussion in February,” McKeown responded when asked why he asked to have the item agendized. “We may then garner more specific advice from the researchers on how to conduct an effective and timely toxicity study.

“Meanwhile, I share the concerns of airport neighbors and want to make sure we begin communication with state and federal officials immediately.”

Rubin admonished city leaders for what he believes is their failure to take action on air pollution at the airport.

“Several years ago, (the) Santa Monica City Council did not even reply to their Environmental Task Force’s recommendation to do a health risk assessment regarding the planned Airport Park,” he said. “Clearly, Santa Monica city officials have been reluctant over the years to publicly take a strong position with regard to Santa Monica Airport air pollution. They have failed to lead.”

The power to regulate air traffic does not rest with the city, McKeown pointed out.

“Just because it’s called Santa Monica Airport doesn’t mean Santa Monica controls aircraft and flights. That is entirely under the power of the Federal Aviation Administration,” the councilman noted. “Santa Monica first tried to ban jets in the 1970s, and we’re in a Washington, D.C. court right now trying to protect neighbors from faster aircraft, which we feel are unsafe for a short runway surrounded by homes.”

McKeown was referring to an ordinance that he and his colleagues passed in March 2008, which would have banned specific aircraft from the airport. The case, which was struck down by a lower court, was appealed by the city government and is now being reviewed by a federal appellate court.

“If my council item passes, Santa Monica will take the lead in demanding a toxicity study so we have the legal grounds to stop the jet exhaust pollution,” McKeown pledged. “And I’m hoping Los Angeles will join us.”

Mikhail also hopes that Los Angeles will join Santa Monica to examine the health risks posed by toxins that scientists say can exacerbate existing respiratory illnesses and in some cases cause asthma and other ailments.

“Cooperation needs to start with Santa Monica,” he said. “I’m hoping that this community forum will bring a greater awareness to what we’re dealing with. Our neighborhood has a right to know the truth.”

Rubin said he has invited members of the Santa Monica City Council and airport officials, as well as Dr. Susan Mearns, an environmental scientist who is a member of the environmental task force.

Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl will be the moderator of the community forum, which will be held at 7 p.m. at St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church, 11555 National Blvd.

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