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Long the target of criticism for air pollution, the Santa Monica Airport could serve as the basis for stronger federal regulations over lead emissions as the EPA is expected to conduct a study on lead particulate from propeller aircraft starting this summer, using the results to develop a model that will help federal officials form new regulations for emissions. (photo by Byron Kennerly)

CITY HALL — Long the target of criticism for air pollution, the Santa Monica Airport could serve as the basis for stronger federal regulations over lead emissions.

The Environmental Protection Agency is expected to conduct a study on lead particulate from propeller aircraft at SMO starting this summer, using the results to develop a model that will help federal officials form new regulations for emissions.

The proposed study was presented to the Airport Commission on Monday.

The agency, which for years has been pressured by environmentalists to study the health impacts of leaded fuel, selected the airport because there are no stationary sources — such as plants or factories — within a mile that could alter results. SMO was also an attractive candidate because it was already the subject of a South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) study that looked at ultra-fine particles and lead at the airport, giving the EPA a foundation.

“This is an opportunity for the city to help in the process of redefining regulations on aircraft because these aircraft are federally regulated,” Rod Merl, the senior analyst for Santa Monica Airport, said.

EPA researchers will be out in the field doing some preliminary work in February before commencing the monitoring in the summer. The study is aimed for completion by January 2010, Merl said.

Merl added that the agency is looking at strategies to remove or phase out lead from propeller planes.

The AQMD study, which is still being drafted, monitored lead levels in and around the airport, finding the highest concentrations next to the runway. The data were collected from November 2005 to March 2007.

“The good news was that the very highest levels of lead were lower than the health standards set by the EPA for lead,” Sam Atwood, spokesman for the AQMD, said.

The agency recently strengthened their lead standard by a factor of 10. The results of the AQMD study still fell below the newly-set threshold.

The Friends of the Earth, an environmental organization, based in Washington D.C., petitioned the EPA in 2006 to study the impact of leaded fuel, focusing on aviation, the largest remaining mobile sources of lead.

“You can fly a propeller aircraft with or without lead and there is certain technology available,” said Danielle Fugere, the regional program director for Friends of the Earth. “What needs to happen is the EPA to push the industry to move away from leaded fuel.”

Aside from hurting the environment, lead has known harmful impacts to children, causing neurological problems, Fugere said.

“I’m glad to see that they are moving forward and really starting to assess the problem,” she said.

One of the largest critics of SMO in recent years has been Concerned Residents Against Airport Pollution, an organization made up of residents from West Los Angeles and Sunset Park, specifically focusing on jets.

Marty Rubin, the president of CRAAP, said that he was pleased that the study was moving forward.

“Anything that looks more closely at the potential health risk from the operations at Santa Monica Airport onto the community is certainly well received by the community considering how close it is to the perimeters of the airport,” Rubin said.

melodyh@smdp.com

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