Continuing his focus on air quality and potential health risks from emissions from the Santa Monica Airport, state Sen. Ted Lieu (D-Marina del Rey) will hold an informal hearing on these topics at the Felicia Mahood Multipurpose Center in West Los Angeles at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 30.
Lieu, who chairs the Senate Select Committee on Air Quality, is convening the hearing in large part due to the concerns of his constituents as well as Santa Monica residents who live near the airport. The senator has invited several scientists as well as government agencies to the event.
There will also be an update from the Department of Toxic Services, which Lieu contacted over the summer to investigate the level of lead in the bloodstreams of children who live near the general aviation airport.
“We’re following up with (Toxic Services) and they’ve also engaged the California Resources Board, because the resources board deals with pollutants in the air. Talks are ongoing (between the two groups),” the senator told The Argonaut in an interview at his Redondo Beach office.
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.
“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.
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 said one of the primary reasons he has scheduled the hearing is to vet the studies that have been conducted on air pollution around the airport and “put them in one place.”
“There have been some very important studies and when looked at together, it paints a very troubling picture at Santa Monica Airport,” he said.
Two other reasons for the event are to give the public a forum where they can comment and ask questions of a legislative panel and to create a legislative record for state lawmakers.
In 2009, a team of UCLA scientists led by Dr. Suzanne Paulson found a high level of ultra fine particulates in the eastern edge of the airport near Mar Vista in 2009.
And an air pollution analysis by the South Coast Air Quality Management District that tracked the air quality during a four-day closure at the Santa Monica Airport in May indicated that there was a much higher level of ultra fine particulates when the airport was open.
Residents who live near the airport say they are looking forward to the hearing and expressed hope that government agencies will take note of what transpires.
“I hope that all concerned parties really pay attention to the findings and recommendations of the panel hosted by Sen. Lieu,” said Bill Koontz, the Mar Vista Community Council’s first vice president. “He has worked hard for many years to make our little slice of the Westside safer and healthier to live in.”
The Mar Vista Community Council voted unanimously Sept. 13 to send a letter to Raphael supporting Lieu’s inquiry. “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.”
Martin Rubin of the Concerned Residents Against Airport Pollution said he would like to see congressional action pertaining to a problem that many residents have complained about in the past.
“I implore Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Santa Monica) to introduce legislation that would establish a minimum distance between the ground operations at an airport and residential neighborhoods,” Rubin said.
Santa Monica Councilman Kevin McKeown said part of the continuing problem of air pollution is that the national EPA, which has been invited to attend the hearing, has yet to define and regulate air quality guidelines for certain aircraft that land and depart from Santa Monica Airport.
“I’m very supportive of (Lieu’s) efforts, and grateful forthe involvement of the state of California in helping us determine meaningful air quality standards for the sorts of pollution aircraft produce,” the councilman said. “The federal EPA has still not issued emission standards for jets smaller than airliners or for piston aircraft.”
Koontz, who is also a co-chair of his community council’s airport committee, said having professionals discuss their findings would add credibility to the hearing for legislators.
“It’s one thing to hear about a problem from your constituents but it’s another thing entirely to hear a group of scientists weigh in about just how bad the effects of the operations at the airport really are to the surrounding neighborhoods,” Koontz asserted.
“After seeing the failures of Santa Monica, Los Angeles and countless concerned groups in their fight against the Federal Aviation Administration and their control of the airport, I believe that the only body that may have some influence on the FAA’s policies, besides the (House of Representatives) may be the EPA.
“It may just take one other federal body to stand up to them that has the clout to effect some real change,” he continued. “It has been shown in several studies that even the smallest amount of lead may have detrimental impacts on the development of our children.”
McKeown pointed to the May analysis that indicated that contaminants are emanating from the airport.
“We know piston aircraft burn leaded fuel, and jets spew ultra-fine particles of partially combusted hydrocarbons into our neighborhoods. The study Santa Monica did when the runway was under repair showed that those pollutants are from local aircraft, not automobile traffic or other sources,” the councilman noted.
“The missing link has been health standards for aircraft pollution, to enable legal enforcement against polluters, and we’re hopeful Sen. Lieu’s state study will provide us the tools we need.”
A representative from Assemblywoman Betsy Butler (D-Marina del Rey) will also be attending Lieu’s hearing.
“California is proud to be a leader in setting air quality standards and we cannot afford to ignore the mounting evidence demonstrating the negative impact on air quality due to the airport operations,” Butler told The Argonaut. “Our partners in the federal government need to address the critical questions that have been raised about the pollution and impact to air quality.”
Lieu said that after reading the accumulated air quality studies and visiting with residents who live near the airfield’s perimeter, he is convinced that pollution is emanating from the jets that land at the city-owned airport.
“There is no doubt in my mind that there are higher levels of particulate matter in the areas near the Santa Monica Airport,” the senator said. “And based on what these studies show, I believe that they are coming from the jet exhaust as well as from the piston aircraft.
“But again, it’s good to have experts explain that,” Lieu added. “And there could be public criticism of that and the experts can respond.”
Rubin, the director of the anti-pollution group, said by requesting empirical as well as anecdotal testimony at the hearing, Lieu is acting in his constituents’ best interests.
“With multiple scientific studies pointing to what seems to be an obvious public health crisis, (Lieu) is calling for testimony from the scientific community as well as the community itself at this upcoming hearing by the Senate Select Committee on Air Quality that he requested to chair,” he said.
“This is an example of true political leadership. Santa Monica residents will gain a great ally upon redistricting changes, and I’m confident that his efforts regarding the airport will be steadfast.”
Lieu said having an engaged public can move the topic of environmental health into the legislative arena.
“I’m very honored to have one of the most informative constituencies of any state senator,” he said. “When you have a well-informed electorate, it’s easier to explain to them why you are making certain decisions.
“Hopefully, this hearing will show the urgency of doing something at Santa Monica Airport,” the senator added. “I think after people hear from experts and the information that has been collected they will be very concerned about the health risks as well as the suffering of people who live near the airport.”
The Felicia Mahood Center is at 11338 Santa Monica Blvd., West Los Angeles.