State Sen. Ted Lieu (D-Marina del Rey) has asked a state agency to look into what he calls “a disturbing occurrence” of lead in children who live within close proximity to airports.
The senator, who chairs the Senate Select Committee on Air Quality, has asked the state Environmental Protection Agency to open an investigation 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 July 18.
There is no place in the United States where residents live as close to an airport as at Santa Monica, said Lieu.
“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.”
A July 13 study funded in part by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency showed 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 analysis, which targeted minors living near airfields in North Carolina, revealed lead in their blood was caused by piston aircraft using aviation gasoline.
“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 study concluded.
Lieu pointed out that some residences in the Sunset Park area of Santa Monica lie closer to the airport runway than the distance reported in the scientific review.
“At the Santa Monica Airport, children live far closer to the airport, within 500 feet, not 500 meters,” he said. “Moreover, Santa Monica is a general aviation airport with many small aircraft with piston engines that use aviation gasoline rather than jet fuel.”
Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Ian Gregor stated 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.”
Lieu was taken aback when he heard the results of the analysis. “My first thought was this is a very disturbing study,” he recalled. “This now provides the missing link between other studies that have been conducted at the airport.
“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has stated there is no safe level for blood lead in children,” the senator added. “Even miniscule amounts of blood lead have been shown to cause learning disabilities, behavior disorders, and substandard academic performance in children.
“Higher levels will cause premature death.”
A December 2009 air quality assessment by Dr. Suzanne Paulson, a UCLA professor of atmospheric and oceanic sciences found a high level of ultrafine particulates in the eastern edge of the airport. The analysis indicated that the levels of ultrafine particles do not extend to other areas around the airport.
Jules Stein, a spokeswoman with the state Department of Toxic Substances Control, confirmed that her agency has received Lieu’s letter. “We’re looking into the study and the opportunities to investigate the issue,” Stein told The Argonaut.
Santa Monica City Councilman Kevin McKeown said the city is open to a study that details toxins that may be harmful to its residents. He also mentioned possible options for the use of the land where the airport sits after the contract with the FAA is anticipated to expire in 2015.
“I’ve already been suggesting that if future uses of our airport land include propeller planes, but not jets, those propeller planes must run on unleaded fuel,” McKeown said. “Santa Monica would welcome better health data on the impacts of lead around the airport.”
Martin Rubin, who heads a local grassroots anti-airport pollution organization, thanked the senator for calling for the investigation.
“I am very grateful to Sen. Lieu for moving on this in less than five days from the publication of the study,” he said. “Santa Monica Airport is the poster child for pollution from aircraft operations, and Sen. Lieu is using the tools available to him to protect his affected constituents from harm. He is a true leader who does not buckle to pressure from powerful lobbyists.”
Marcy Winograd, who moved to Santa Monica last year, has learned firsthand what many residents in Mar Vista and Santa Monica who live in close proximity to the airfield have complained about for years.
“I live in Santa Monica, under a flight path, so I am particularly sensitive to the constant noise overhead from planes that take off almost every 10 minutes on the weekends,” said Winograd, who ran in the 36th Congressional District race this year.
“Neighbors keep tallies of intervals between flights and planes that fly off course and tell me they’re fed up with the situation,” she continued. “I’ve expressed an interest to the city of Santa Monica in participating in discussions on the future of the airport and am certainly open to proposing other uses for the property.”
Rubin feels Santa Monica city officials have done little to protect the health of their residents and of neighborhoods in Los Angeles from air pollution.
“Unfortunately, the city of Santa Monica has done the bare minimum with regard to the air pollution emanating from the airport that it owns and operates,” Rubin stated. “Apparently the city will support efforts to study the potential harm coming from their airport’s jet operations only if someone else pays for it.”
McKeown referenced an air quality study that the city conducted during a four-day closure for repairs at the airport from Sept. 20-23 last year as evidence that the city government has tried to do its own limited analysis.
“We have done what we could as a city, such as the local air quality measurements during the brief airport shutdown late last summer, but it will take the resources of the state to do a health study like the one Ted Lieu proposes, which we and ourresidents welcome,” McKeown countered.
The FAA disputes the 2015 date when the lease agreement expires, claiming that it is eight years later than what Santa Monica officials claim.
“In the FAA’s view, the city is obligated to keep Santa Monica Airport open through 2023 under assurances it gave in exchange for federal airport improvement program grants,” Gregor asserted. “The FAA also believes that the city is separately obligated to operate Santa Monica Airport beyond 2023 because it acquired the land on which the airport is located cost-free from the federal government in 1948 under an instrument of transfer pursuant to the Surplus Property Act.
“The FAA is fully committed to preserving the federal investment and keeping this airport open and operating, including specific performance of these obligations.”
Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who is a proponent of closing the airport after 2015, said his friend, Lieu, is showing “great leadership” in calling for an investigation of lead in the bloodstreams of children.
“This will give more credibility to the other studies that have been presented,” Rosendahl said.
Lieu said the EPA analysis gives anti-pollution advocates stronger footing in order to make their case for a long-range plan to curb airport toxins.
“We now have solid evidence that (lead) is getting into people’s bloodstreams,” he said. “I strongly believe that if this investigation shows higher lead in children’s blood levels, the FAA can no longer continue denying that the toxicity of jet fuel is not harmful to residents who live close to that airport.”