A panel of experts who have conducted air pollution studies at Santa Monica Airport collectively indicated that pollutants from aircraft can have a deleterious effect on residents who live within the proximity of the airport at a Nov. 30 public hearing convened by state Sen. Ted Lieu (D-Marina del Rey).
The senator, who was joined by Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, invited the panel of experts to offer the public their insights on air quality investigations that have taken place at the airport in recent years.
Lieu, the chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Air Quality, told The Argonaut a week before the hearing that after reading the many air quality studies that have been conducted, he is convinced that pollution is emanating from the jets that land or depart 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.”
Over the last several years, homeowners who live near the 63-year-old general aviation airport have organized, rallied and protested to their local, state and federal representatives about what they and others see as immediate dangers to their health and quality of life. They complain that the advent of jet traffic 15-20 years ago has created an atmosphere of toxins and noise that has forced some homeowners to leave the area, while others have chosen to battle the Federal Aviation Administration through their elected leaders.
Advocates of the airport and its businesses say the airport has existed long before many of the homeowners came to Santa Monica and neighboring Mar Vista and Venice, and suggest that much of the air pollution comes from the nearby 10 Freeway as well as heavily congested Bundy Drive.
One of the main reasons that the senator convened the air quality hearing was based on an analysis by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released this past summer. The July 13 investigation, which targeted minors living near airfields in North Carolina, revealed a high level of lead in their bloodstreams, which the agency found was caused by piston aircraft using aviation gasoline.
Lieu and Rosendahl told similar stories about campaigning in the neighborhoods near the Santa Monica Airport and learning firsthand about the noise and air pollutions that residents there are faced with on a daily basis.
“After a while, I had to stop (going door to door) for a few minutes because of the poor air quality,” Lieu recalled.
Scientists from the South Coast Air Quality Management District and UCLA gave the Nov. 30 audience of more than 100 an overview of air pollution and some of the terminology that they would be using throughout their presentations.
Dr. Phillip Fine of the South Coast Air Quality Management District noted that there has been a very high level of lead and ultrafine particulate matter near the eastern portion of the general aviation airfield, closer to West Los Angeles and Mar Vista.
While some have questioned whether the airport is the nexus of the pollutants in the area, Fine said jet exhaust unquestionably produces lead and ultrafine particulates. “They are very efficient ultrafine particle generators,” he told the legislators.
Fine’s agency most recently studied the level of pollutants at the airport during a four-day closure in September last year for runway restriping.
The scientific panel also discussed how pollutants from automobiles can play a factor in causing respiratory ailments in residents in the nearby neighborhoods, some of which are less than 300 feet from the airport runway.
Dr. Shahram Yazdani of UCLA told the audience that there are a number of preschools and elementary schools within a small radius of the airport.
“The population of children and young adults in the area spend a prolonged amount of time, and two (schools) are right in the border of the airport. There’s nothing between them,” stated Yazdani, whose specialty is pediatrics.
Yazdani said there was scientific evidence that ultrafine particles cause increased inflammation in the lungs of children and adults. “This is responsible for a lot of cardiovascular problems, as well as long-term risk factors for cancer,” he said.
Another UCLA professor, Dr. Suzanne Paulson, and a team of scientists found an extremely high level of ultrafine particulates in the eastern edge of the airport near Mar Vista in their air quality analysis of the airport in 2009. Paulson reiterated much of the work her team had done two years ago via video.
Noise pollution was also a topic of discussion and a problem that many residents have complained about in addition to the jet fumes.
“(Noise decibels) are usually at 95 decibels and even when they go down 10 points, you can see hearing loss,” Yazdani said.
Fine drew murmurs from the audience when he said ultrafine particulates cannot penetrate the walls of houses. “It might be better to stay indoors when the jets are taking off,” he recommended.
Martin Rubin of the Concerned Residents Against Airport Pollution also addressed the legislators, as did Laura Silagi, Kathy Levitt and Mindy-Taylor Ross of the Venice Neighborhood Council’s Santa Monica Airport Ad Hoc Committee.
The Venice committee has asked for the airport to be closed after a 1984 agreement with Santa Monica ends in 2015, and that the airport’s six flight schools relocate to a different area.
The FAA contends that the agreement does not expire until 2023.
Santa Monica resident Steven Kent was one of the few in the audience who took issue with the panel’s presentations as well as the manner in which the format was structured.
“What they didn’t mention was that 136,000 tons (of lead) was created by the automobile industry, and they’re ignoring that fact,” Kent claimed. “We really should be looking at banning lead from automobiles if we’re going to be looking at alternatives.”
FAA officials say the agency holds jets with idling engines facing down the runway until they are ready to taxi into position for takeoff.
“Whatever the FAA says they are doing isn’t working,” said Rubin.
Steven Stiry, the president of the Santa Monica Airport Association, echoed Kent’s claims of a hearing that was skewed towards how the airport unfavorably impacts the surrounding population.
“Could we have the opportunity for other spokespeople or witnesses, to make presentations perhaps on the other side of the issue?” Stiry asked.
Lieu agreed to consider presentations from pro-airport advocates in any future hearings.
Stiry said he would also like to see comparative data from other airports, such as Torrance, Hawthorne and Long Beach.
“(Torrance and Long Beach) operate in residential areas,” the airport association president noted.
Rosendahl, who is in favor of closing the airport, commended Lieu for holding the hearing and the experts who attended.
“It was extraordinary. It was very encouraging to see state leadership on this issue,” said Rosendahl, who represents the Los Angeles neighborhoods of West Los Angeles and Mar Vista.
“I thought the scientists made first-class presentations that were extremely comprehensive.”
The councilman also applauded his Venice and Mar Vista constituents for their advocacy.
Lieu said his committee will be considering the possibility of introducing legislation next year regarding the reduction of citizen health risks.