SANTA MONICA RESIDENTS AND ANTI-POLLUTION ADVOCATES say that a recent air quality study that documented high levels of ultrafine particles downwind at the Santa Monica Airport buttress their earlier claims of a link between jet fumes and pollutants in their neighborhoods. Some wore gas masks at a protest rally at the airport last year. (Argonaut file photo by T.W. Brown)

A newly published report regarding pollutants at the Santa Monica Airport has vindicated their theories regarding harmful toxins emitted from jets that use the city-owned airfield, say local anti-pollution advocates.

The report, which was published in the November issue of Environmental Science and Technology by UCLA professor of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences Suzanne Paulson, Ph.D., states that there is a high level of fine particulates in the air approximately 100 yards downwind from the airport.

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

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

Santa Monica residents, along with some homeowners in Los Angeles, including Mar Vista, have frequently claimed that the fumes from aircraft landing and departing at the general aviation airport are a key factor in the pollution levels near their homes.

Martin Rubin, the director of a local grassroots organization that advocates for air quality studies at the airport, was happy to hear about the UCLA analysis.

“Finally, there is now a completed, strong, and conservative scientific study designed to take a focused look at air pollution from Santa Monica Airport’s aircraft operations,” Rubin, who heads Concerned Residents Against Airport Pollution, said. “This UCLA study is well thought out and on target, showing clearly that the airport’s operations encroach into the Los Angeles community east of the airport.”

Robert Trimborn, director of the Santa Monica Airport, has forwarded a copy of the study to the airport’s consultant.

“It’s premature for us to judge the study, because we haven’t fully reviewed it yet,” Trimborn said.

An analysis on air quality was conducted by Dr. Phillip Fine of the South Coast Air Quality Management District at the airport over an 18-month period. His findings were presented in 2007 and determined that lead levels at general aviation airports near runways and in surrounding communities was below newly implemented federal standards, but elevated at runway sites.

The study also found that ultrafine particles were measured and were significantly elevated near runways during aircraft operations.

Paulson is aware of Fine’s study, and noted that it looked at larger particles as well as ultrafine. She said that both can have harmful impacts on the population.

“It’s clear that they have some toxicity,” said the doctor.

Paulson stopped short of attributing emissions from the jets and smaller planes at Santa Monica’s airport to what some residents claim are increased instances of cancer in some residents of the neighborhoods around the airport.

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

Dr. John Kennedy, the director of preventive cardiology and wellness at Marina Del Rey Hospital, cited a number of domestic and European studies that show a direct link between ultrafine particles and respiratory ailments.

“There is overwhelming data that show how air pollutants are directly related to respiratory disease in people who live near airports,” said Kennedy. “Pregnant women who reside near high-traffic areas have had babies with low birth weights, and other studies show a higher rate of asthma in children who live near airports and freeways.”

Kennedy cited a recent UCLA and USC study that showed that mice that were exposed to ultrafine particles had a 50-percent higher rate of contracting heart disease than mice that were exposed to larger particulate matter.

“Ultrafine particles seem to disrupt HDL cholesterol, which is the ‘good’ cholesterol,” Kennedy explained. “That’s why there is a higher incident of heart disease, which can lead to stroke and other complications.”

Trimborn said that all combustible engines expel ultrafine particles into the atmosphere.

“There is no standard for exposure,” he pointed out, referring to the levels cited in the study.

The Clean Air Act prohibits cities, counties and states from establishing their own emission standards by the Environmental Protection Agency, other than those that are already in place.

“That is why we cannot impose our own emission standards here at Santa Monica Airport,” Trimborn said. “We are categorically prohibited by federal law.”

State Assemblyman Ted Lieu feels that the UCLA analysis validates what he and other lawmakers have stated in the past — that these types of airport emissions are harmful.

“For a long time, a number of residents have been saying that these emissions are making people sick,” the assemblyman said. “Santa Monica Airport was never intended to handle the types of jets and the volume of air traffic that it has seen over the last decade.”

Lieu proposes restricting the number of aircraft that land at and depart from the airport.

Santa Monica is engaged in a legal battle with the Federal Aviation Administration over the right to prohibit certain jets from its municipal airport. The case is now before a federal appellate court.

Rubin also believes that the UCLA air quality assessment gives credence to what he and others have stated publicly regarding jet fumes that at times penetrate their neighborhoods.

“The study’s conclusions lend strong support to the suspicions of residents who have complained about the odors and physical effects of jet emissions for many years,” he said. “Surely, our powerful representatives like Reps. Henry Waxman and Jane Harman and Sens. Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein in Washington, D.C. should be able to now take this information and do what is necessary to correct this health crisis. It’s out in the open thanks to a diligent UCLA team of scientists.”

The most important thing to take way from the study is that the particulates, along with emissions from the nearby 10 Freeway, pose health risks to nearby communities, said Paulson.

“There is a lot of evidence that large amounts of ultrafine particles lead to adverse respiratory effects,” she concluded.

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